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Could Deshaun Watson play in week one after NFLPA’s reply to NFL’s appeal?

While it is unlikely that Deshaun Watson plays in week one if the NFLPA sues the league, it’s not impossible.

Update:
While it is unlikely that Deshaun Watson plays in week one if the NFLPA sues the league, it’s not impossible.
Nick CammettAFP

As soon as word came out the NFL was appealing Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension, the league’s Players Association began making moves.

While the NFL and NFLPA jointly appointed Judge Sue L. Robinson to handle Watson’s case, the league didn’t necessarily fancy the idea of Watson getting punished for only six games, appealing Robinson’s case for a longer suspension. The league has often made it clear that the 26-year-old should be out for at least a season. The union, on the other hand, did not appeal the suspension issued by Robinson, and also asked the NFL not to appeal as they continue to stand with Watson.

All that being said, there is a possibility the NFLPA sues the league if it believes the ‘new’ suspension is too long, which could lead to Watson playing in Week 1 of the regular season against the Panthers. However, it is unlikely to happen. Let’s take a look at the reasons why it is.

Related: Why on earth did Deshaun Watson reject the NFL’s settlement offer?

All the reasons why Watson is unlikely to play in Week 1

In the past, lawsuits by the NFLPA against the NFL have delayed suspensions. For instance, Ezekiel Elliott and Tom Brady were both able to play in regular-season games while suits around their suspensions (domestic violence allegations) were playing out at court.

But that’s really only because the NFLPA appealed both bans against the players right away, arguing that neither player should have been suspended. When those suspensions were then upheld, both players were able to delay sitting out of games, and play during their regular season. In Watson’s case, the NFLPA did not appeal the six-game suspension that Robinson issued, accepting that the QB would be out for the first six games of the season and return in Week 7. So even if Watson’s case goes to federal court, he would still have to serve his suspension.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the existing suspension, which the NFL is appealing, cannot be wiped away, as per the league’s Personal Conduct Policy; the appeal is only to increase the suspension. That’s why it’s unlikely that a preliminary injunction gets granted in federal court as the NFLPA would have to prove irreparable ruin if the suspension is exercised. And since Watson is already sitting out those six games no matter what, that would not be the case here.

Another crucial point related to the Personal Conduct Policy is that Robinson concluded that Watson violated that policy three different times for non-violent sexual assault. And the NFLPA basically accepted that conclusion by not appealing Robinson’s decision, which made them irrevocable.

And last but not least, there’s Watson’s contract, which still grants him $1.035 million in base salary with Cleveland in 2022.

Related: How will the suspension affect Deshaun Watson’s contract? How much money will he lose?

What this means is that whatever games Watson misses this season would cost him money from just that amount. However, if his suspension goes into next season, each game Watson misses would cost him a share of the $46 million in the guaranteed salary he is set to receive in 2023. So instead of losing $60,882 per game, Watson would lose $2,705,882 per game.

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