- Deshaun Watson faces 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct that took place during massages.
- Roger Goodell said they do not have enough information to put Watson on commissioner’s exempt list.
- The commissioner’s exempt list exists for cases like this one; it’s not being used here.
While speaking with reporters on Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made one thing clear: Deshaun Watson is eligible to play.
The Houston Texans quarterback faces 22 civil lawsuits and at least 10 criminal complaints accusing Watson of sexual assault and misconduct during massage appointments. Watson has not been active for a game this season, and both he and the Texans have been clear that they are looking for a trade to send him to a new city.
Since Watson has not been active this season, the NFL has not been forced to designate whether he was eligible to play or if he would be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while investigations into Watson’s conduct played out. While on the list, players are still paid and can participate in meetings and other non-football activities but can not practice or attend games.
Teams are still interested in trading for the star despite the allegations
The Carolina Panthers appear to be interested in trading for Watson to replace Sam Darnold. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports even says they would be willing to include star running back Christian McCaffrey in a deal. However, Pro Football Talk reports that the Panthers have “no plans” to trade for Watson.
The Miami Dolphins look like the most interested party still in play. One report says 81-year-old owner Stephen Ross “really wants” Watson in what could be viewed as a win-soon move.
The Houston Texans are reportedly demanding a king’s ransom of at least three first-round draft picks in exchange for Watson.
That there are multiple teams interested in Watson and the Texans feel they can demand a high price for Watson suggests that at least some in the NFL are still willing to look past such ugly accusations if it means helping the team win on the field.
It appears Watson will be eligible to play if traded
Teams looking to trade for Watson were, in turn, curious — if they made a move for Watson, would he be eligible to play?
On Wednesday, Goodell answered that question.
“There obviously are other legal approaches being made either through civil cases. Obviously, the police have been investigating also. We don’t have all the access to that information at this point in time. We pride ourselves in not interfering in that, being cooperative as we can to make sure we get all the facts,” Goodell said.
“But I think that process is still ongoing and until that process isn’t ongoing and we have enough data and enough information to be able to make a determination of whether he should go on commissioner exempt, we don’t feel that we have the necessary information at this point.”
While Watson could be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list at a later date based on the results of some of the ongoing investigations, at this point, the league clearly had no plans to keep him off the field. Goodell essentially signaled, “All clear, at least for now,” to any teams considering trading for Watson before the trade deadline on November 2.
The NFL could suspend Watson if they wanted
The NFL had not seen all the facts yet, but this isn’t a justification for keeping Watson eligible to play.
The commissioner’s exempt list says it right there in the name — this is the commissioner’s list. It’s managed essentially entirely at Goodell’s discretion.
League policy lists several reasons why a player may be placed on the exempt list. First, if a player is formally charged with a “crime of violence,” which includes the use of physical force to injure or threaten another person, as well as “having engaged in a sexual assault by force or a sexual assault of a person who was incapable of giving consent.”
Second, a player may also be designated for the exempt list “when an investigation leads the Commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this Policy by committing any of the conduct identified above, he may act where the circumstances and evidence warrant doing so.”
The policy also states that the list can be used “in cases in which a violation relating to a crime of violence is suspected, but further investigation is required.”
Goodell’s explanation that the investigation is still ongoing justifies leaving Watson off the exempt list on the grounds of the first part of the policy, at least for now. Still, given the evidence that is already public knowledge, he has more than enough justification to put Watson on the exempt list under the second or third definitions.
The allegations against Watson will travel with him to a new team
The allegations against Watson are serious. In one lawsuit, a woman alleges that Watson “coerced plaintiff to move her mouth towards his penis, forcing plaintiff to perform oral sex on him.” Others describe Watson purposely touching women he had hired for massages with the tip of his penis. One plaintiff described feeling threatened by Watson as their appointment with him played out.
Given the already public information, Goodell could have decided to place Watson on the exempt list. Instead, the league signaled that until the investigations are complete, Watson will be eligible to play. Teams interested in potentially trading for Watson undoubtedly got the message.
Should Watson not be traded by the deadline, he will, in all likelihood, remain inactive for the Texans until the offseason, making his status on the exempt list a moot point.
But until then, the NFL appears to have made its stance clear — Watson is good to play, at least for now.