Roger Goodell says NFL will investigate if Deshaun Watson violated policy
PALM BEACH, Fla. — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that newly signed Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson faces potential punishment if he is found to have violated the league’s personal conduct policy in connection with 22 civil lawsuits filed against him alleging sexual misconduct or sexual assault. Goodell said, however, that there is no timetable for when the league’s investigation will conclude.
“Obviously, these are serious charges, so we’re looking at this seriously,” Goodell said at the conclusion of the league’s three-day spring meetings. “We have resolution from the criminal side of it. Our investigation will hopefully have access to more information, and that will be helpful to see if there were violations of the personal conduct policy.”
Watson was not charged after two grand juries in Texas were presented with evidence in the cases, however the civil cases are proceeding. A week after a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, Watson signed a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract. Watson was also pursued by the Falcons, Saints and Panthers.
The NFL’s investigation is being overseen by a jointly appointed disciplinary officer agreed upon by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The officer will “make that decision (about potential violation of the personal conduct policy) when all the facts are all in. There is no time frame on that.”
The investigation has included interviews with some of the women suing Watson, and the quarterback is expected to be interviewed.
“We will seek to speak to everybody to get to the bottom line and the facts,” Goodell said. “The personal conduct policy is very important to us. [Violation of] the personal conduct policy does not need a criminal violation. When we get to the [end of the investigation], a decision will be made whether there should be any discipline.”
Watson was inactive the entire 2021 season while he was with the Texans.
Goodell addressed several other issues in his news conference, including the agreement involving the NFL and the state of New York on the construction of a stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
“That community means a great deal to the NFL,” Goodell said. “I said sometime in the last year or so that a new stadium is going to be required. The current stadium was nearing the end of its useful life . . . Having the Buffalo Bills there for at least for the next 30 years is a positive.”
Goodell said there is no timetable to the investigation by former United States attorney Mary Jo White about the allegations brought by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores that team owner Stephen Ross offered cash incentives for him to purposely lose games in 2019 to improve the team’s draft position the following year.
Goodell said the NFL continues to address many of the issues raised by Flores in the lawsuit about the league’s hiring practices of diverse candidates.
“We spent the most time [at the meetings] on diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “I’m focused on what we do to understand the issues that Brian has raised and to see what we can do to address those issues.”
The NFL’s first-ever 17-game season and expanded playoff field were greeted enthusiastically by owners, and Goodell said concerns about the potential for increased injuries were allayed by what he said was a reduction in the injury rate.
“Everyone expected there would be a higher number of injuries, but we had fewer injuries in the 17-game format than the 16-game format,” Goodell said, although he did not offer any statistical analysis of injuries. “From a safety standpoint, and it’s only one year, but the initial reaction is very positive.
“On postseason expansion, I don’t think anyone wouldn’t say this was one of the greatest postseasons in the history of the NFL,” Goodell said of the addition of two wild card teams in the 2021 playoffs. “We had 18 of the 32 teams still in contention for the Super Bowl in Week 18. The early returns are incredibly positive.”