Perhaps Monday’s most significant development in the Deshaun Watson the situation has not changed at all. Specifically, Watson’s team’s failure to respond to the 24th trial could end up creating significant consequences for Watson with the league and/or the team.
Attorney Rusty Hardin released a statement on Monday saying he is unable to respond to the 24th trial because “our legal team has not had time to investigate this new case and hadn’t heard his name until today.”
There is an important distinction between not hearing one’s name and not being aware of one’s potential claims. The early stages of the civil lawsuit against Watson involved a tricky and convoluted guessing game as to who the plaintiffs were, as they originally filed the suit under the pseudonym Jane Doe. The effort to identify potential plaintiffs potentially included someone whose name Watson did not know or remember who would eventually make the reduced claims in writing in the lawsuit filed Monday. Hardin’s statement only says they didn’t hear the person’s name until Monday; it is possible that they knew, via aggressive questioning of their own client, that there was a 24th interaction that could have resulted in a claim.
This is important for several reasons. First, if this person whose name was not previously known to Watson’s legal team now files a criminal complaint, the allegations could go to another grand jury. And the graphic details contained in the 24th complaint, if repeated before a grand jury and accepted by the grand jury, could result in an indictment. (Although I have tried to avoid repeating graphic details, the 24th Complainant submits that after trying to get the Complainant to touch his penis and asking her “where do you want me to put it?”, he ejaculated – and “some of his ejaculate reached the applicant’s chest and face.”
Second, if Watson is ultimately suspended for alleged conduct in the 24th trial, the Browns may be able to void his warranties and move on, and possibly recoup a significant portion of his signing bonus.
As explained at the beginning of April, after obtaining a full copy of Watson’s contractthe contract exempts from standard default/guarantee wording a suspension imposed by the league “solely in relation to matters disclosed to the club in writing pursuant to paragraph 42 and such suspension results in the player’s unavailability to the club only for matches in 2022 or 2023 NFL League Years.
In paragraph 42 of the Contract, Watson “represents and warrants (except as disclosed to the Club in writing), as of the date hereof, that (i) the Player has not been charged, charged, convicted or pleaded against a felony and/or misdemeanor involving fraud or moral turpitude, (ii) the player has not engaged in any conduct which would expose him to any charge, indictment or conviction for such offence, and (iii) he does not There are no circumstances which would prevent the Player’s continued availability to the Club for the duration of this Agreement.
The written disclosure was not attached to the contract. A source with knowledge of the document told us in April that it is a “fair assumption” that it refers to the 22 ongoing civil lawsuits.
The question now is whether it was drafted broadly enough to encompass people who had not previously come forward, whether with a lawsuit, a criminal complaint, or some other public statement. The plaintiff who sued last week, for example, was known to Watson’s camp because she did a podcast interview last August. Based on Hardin’s statement, they did not know the name of the person who filed the 24th lawsuit until Monday.
Beyond whether the 24th Plaintiff’s claims could potentially fall beyond the language of the exception to the default language in Watson’s contract, there is the fundamental reality that Watson could ultimately be suspended at some point after 2022 and 2023. With no clear indication as to when the NFL will act against Watson and with literally two dozen lawsuits that will work their way through the court system (with Aug. 1-March 1 off limits for one of the trials), whether the league postpones all sanctions until the cases are completed (unlikely) or imposes a preliminary suspension now and leaves the door open for another suspension based on the results of the cases (a reasonable middle ground), Watson could still face suspension in 2024 or beyond.
Then there’s the possibility that still can’t be ignored that the NFL will change its stance on paid time off. Although commissioner Roger Goodell took paid time off from the table at the end of March, recent developments could bring it back into play. When we asked the league this very specific question on Monday – a question the commissioner freely answered in March – the league had no comment.
So we’ll see how it all plays out. For the first time since the wave of lawsuits were filed in 2021, however, a case will play out involving someone whose name was not previously known to Watson’s camp. This could (not will, but could) potentially create major problems for Watson, in several ways.
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