Six days ago, the hearing regarding potential discipline for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson ended. Five days from now, the two sides will submit written paperwork to Judge Sue L. Robinson arguing their respective positions. In the interim, a negotiated compromise can be reached. In theory.
Arguments have been made as to the wisdom of a settlement. And it would make sense. Legal disputes become finalized without a formal ruling all the time. The best outcome results in both sides being a little pissed off at the final decision. But it eliminates the prospect of one side ending up extremely pissed off over the clear and conclusive loss.
The problem for the league is P.R. The NFL, and specifically Commissioner Roger Goodell, can’t afford to be perceived as being too lenient with Watson, despite the potential flaws in the case that was presented to Judge Robinson. That’s why the league wants a minimum suspension of one year, and why the limited updates from the three days of the hearing consisted of largely of reminders that, yes, the league still wants him to be suspended for at least a year.
How could the league sell the idea of something less than that? It wouldn’t be easy. Although plenty of cases like this are indeed resolved by agreement, the mere suggestion from the week before the hearing began that Watson could be actively involved in the determination of his suspension drew confusion and criticism. Even if the league leaks its reasoning to reporters who will present it to the public without skepticism or Goodell conducts a press conference explaining it without the usual stream of non-answers, it will be hard for the league to sell something like a four-game or six-game or even eight-game suspension.
A settlement could make much more sense for the NFL after Judge Robinson announces a decision. As long as she imposes any discipline whatsoever, the league can appeal to Goodell, who would have final say. He could, if he wanted, impose a full-season suspension, or longer. It becomes much easier for the league to negotiate with Watson once someone other than the league issues a decision as to whether the Personal Conduct Policy was violated and the punishment that should ensue.