Perhaps the most important development on Monday in the case of Deshaun Watson was the lack of one at all. Specifically, the Watson team’s lack of response to lawsuit #24 could create serious consequences for Watson with the league and/or team.
Attorney Rusty Hardin issued a statement on Monday stating that he was unable to respond to Case No. 24 because “our legal team did not have time to investigate this new file and has not heard her name until today.”
There is an important difference between not hearing her name and not being aware of her potential claims. The early stages of the civil lawsuit against Watson were marked by a subtle and complex guessing game about the identity of the plaintiffs, as they initially filed suit under the pseudonym Jane Doe. Efforts to identify potential plaintiffs will likely include someone whose name Watson did not know or remember who will eventually turn the claims into writing in Monday’s lawsuit. Hardin’s statement only says that they had not heard of the person’s name until Monday; They likely knew, through aggressive questioning of their clients, that there was Interaction #24 that could have resulted in a claim being made.
This is important for multiple reasons. First, if that person whose name was previously not known to Watson’s legal team files a criminal complaint, the allegations can be submitted to another grand jury. The graphic details of the twenty-fourth complaint, if repeated before a grand jury and accepted by the grand jury, could lead to an indictment. (Although I have tried to avoid repeating graphic details, the 24th Plaintiff maintains that after trying to persuade the Prosecutor to touch his penis and asking her “Where do you want me to put it?” he ejaculated—and “some of his ejaculated on the Plaintiff’s chest and face”).
Second, if Watson is eventually suspended for the alleged conduct in the 24th lawsuit, it is likely that Brown could void his warranties and move forward with him, possibly recovering a large portion of his signing bonus.
As we explained in early April, after we obtained a full copy of Watson’s contract, the contract excludes from standard default language / void warranty, the suspension imposed by the league “only in relation to matters disclosed to the club in writing in accordance with clause 42 etc. On suspension the player is not available to the club only for matches during the 2022 or 2023 NFL League Years.”
In clause 42 of the Contract, Watson represents and warrants (except as has been disclosed to the Club in writing), as of the date of this Contract, that (i) the Player has not been charged, charged, convicted, or entrusted with any felony and/or misdemeanor involving for fraud or moral corruption, (ii) the player has not engaged in conduct that would expose him to a charge, indictment or conviction of any such offence, and (iii) there are no circumstances preventing the player from continuing with the club for the duration of this contract.”
The written statement is not attached to the contract. A source familiar with the document told us in April that it was a “fair assumption” that he was referring to 22 pending civil lawsuits.
The question now becomes whether it is written broad enough to include individuals who have not previously filed, either with a lawsuit, criminal complaint, or other public statement. The plaintiff who filed last week’s lawsuit, for example, was known to Camp Watson because she gave an podcast interview last August. Based on Hardin’s statement, they didn’t know the name of the person filing Suit #24 until Monday.
Far from asking whether the 24th plaintiff’s claims could override the default language of Watson’s contract, the key fact is that Watson could eventually be suspended beyond 2022 and 2023. Without any clear indication of when the FA will act American Football v. Watson and with 24 lawsuits working its way through the legal system (from August 1 to March 1 outside of any trials), if the league defers all punishment until the cases are over (unlikely) or imposes an initial suspension now and leaves the door open for a suspension Else based on case results (a reasonable middle ground), Watson could still face suspension in 2024 or later.
Then there is the possibility that the NFL’s change of position on paid leave could still be ignored. Although Commissioner Roger Goodell removed paid leave from the table in late March, recent developments may put it back in play. When we asked the league that very specific question on Monday — one that the commissioner freely answered in March — the league had no comment.
So we’ll see how it all goes. For the first time since a flurry of lawsuits was filed in 2021, a case involving a previously unknown person will begin in the Watson camp. It could (it won’t, but could) create huge problems for Watson, in multiple ways.