The NFL never really sleeps, but the beast may be in a mild snooze.
The glut of negative news drops out of the league office on Thursday afternoon certainly felt like a pre-vacation bloodletting of sorts. I suspect we get news on some player suspensions (for substance abuse or performance-enhancing, more so than for personal conduct policy issues), and then, most likely, things shutdown until the end of the month.
It's always risky to unplug and head to the beach for a bit in this business, but I'm going to risk jinxing myself and go on record as saying the next two weeks will be quiet. Real quiet.
All of the burning questions that so many have been asking for so long, about a myriad of quarterbacks in particular, I suspect will still be lingering when my vacation ends. This, I suppose, is the opposite of a fearless prognostication column (I already exhausted that offseason option last month). It's more my reading of tea leaves based on what I have been picking up regarding some of the thornier issues still percolating around the league as we enter what should be the most dormant time of the year.
I do not expect closure on much of this until just before the opening of training camps (July 27 for most teams), and some of it will undoubtedly remain unresolved until deep into the summer if not into the season. After an incredibly trying 2020 season that required unprecedented and nonstop work among all parties in this sport – getting the season off the ground and getting it completed and then agreeing to operating rules for a still-unique 2021 season – there is a real sense around the NFL that it is time to get off the grid and catch some breath before the marathon begins anew in a few weeks.
So, you ask, what does that mean for some of the most pressing situations across the league? Here's what I think:
It's one thing to wrap up an internal investigation of an owner without any public record, any reveal of evidence or any written document whatsoever. It's relatively easy to broker a settlement of sorts with one of your own, allow him to restructure his organization beforehand and accept what amounts to a suspension without ever having to label it as such or answer any questions in a forthright manner about it … But what Watson is facing is very different.
This is a star player under criminal investigation and facing a civil process while already at war with his franchise. The NFL as a rule takes its cues from the justice system, and with so many allegations from so many complainants, this could linger for months barring a global settlement of sorts. Some suggest the Texans trade him, but I can't see another owner wanting to take on this player under these circumstances and I tend to believe he will end up on the Commissioner's Exempt List to start the season. Either way, barring a settlement, I don't think there is anything close to closure on this situation, and even a settlement itself wouldn't necessarily wrap up the NFL's probe into this matter. I suspect this goes into September.