Roger Goodell names former New Jersey attorney general to hear Deshaun Watson’s suspension appeal

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has named the designee to oversee the league’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension.

Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey will hear the appeal, the league announced on Thursday.

"Mr. Harvey served as the Attorney General of New Jersey and is now a partner at the Paterson Belknap firm in New York," the league said in a statement. "He has also served as a federal prosecutor. He has deep expertise in criminal law, including domestic violence and sexual assault, and has advised the NFL and other professional leagues on the development and implementation of workplace policies, including the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy. Mr. Harvey has also served as the Commissioner's designee in other arbitrations."

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Harvey, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at the Paterson Belknap law firm in New York, served as New Jersey’s attorney general from 2003-06. He was on the committee that suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2017, and he currently sits on the NFL’s diversity advisory committee.

Independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson, who was a former federal judge, handed down a six-game suspension to Watson after he was accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women. Watson, who is now with the Cleveland Browns, has denied all wrongdoing. The league initially wanted a one-year suspension, but Robinson opted to go with just six games.

The league announced Wednesday that it is appealing that ruling — which will allow the final determination of Watson’s suspension to fall back into the league’s hands. Instead of Goodell overseeing it, however, that will now be Harvey’s job.

The appeal will be processed on an expedited basis, and no new evidence or testimony will be allowed.

"The NFL's appeal addresses whether, based on the findings made by Judge Robinson, the discipline should be modified to include a professional evaluation and treatment as determined by medical experts, an appropriate fine, and a longer suspension," the league said in a statement. "Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Mr. Harvey's written decision 'will constitute the full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s), and parties' to the CBA."

According to Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson, the NFL is seeking one of two outcomes:

  • Watson would be suspended indefinitely for one year. During that year, he would undergo an element of treatment related to the behavior established in his case. At the end of the year, Watson would apply for reinstatement and if he meets the league’s criteria, he will come back into the fold for the Browns. In this scenario, Watson wouldn’t be subject to a fine as part of his punishment. However, his contract in Cleveland would toll, essentially starting his five-year extension in 2023 rather than 2022.

  • Watson would be subject to a significant fine if his suspension is ultimately less than one year. Similar to the first outcome, he would also have to undergo treatment during his suspension. Think of this scenario as mapping with the league’s last settlement volley in July, which would have suspended Watson 12 games and fined him something near the neighborhood of his 2021 salary of $10.5 million. It would be a considerable financial cost for Watson, but also one that ends with him returning to the NFL without having to apply for reinstatement or tolling his current contract for one year.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell named his designee to hear the appeal into Deshaun Watson's suspension. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell named his designee to hear the appeal into Deshaun Watson's suspension. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
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