A suspension for on-field actions could be very expensive for Deshaun Watson
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson had a rough night against the Steelers. It could have been worse — and not just because he somehow escaped any penalty, ejection, or fine for shoving an official.
Watson’s contract, as anyone who has paid any attention to the NFL for the past 18 months knows, was fully guaranteed. The contract, like most with guarantees, contains language that allows the teams to void future guarantees.
The power to do so becomes, as to Watson, a potential escape hatch for the Browns, if his play doesn’t improve. (This isn’t a prediction it won’t. It’s just a recognition that he’s not where he was in 2020 with the Texans.)
PFT has obtained a copy of Watson’s contract. Beyond the usual factors that can invalidate future guarantees (e.g., retirement, holdout, suspension for PEDs), the contract has language that applies to suspensions arising from on-field infractions.
Specifically, the contract generally voids all future guarantees for any suspension imposed by the NFL. It then applies an exception for two specific types of suspensions imposed for violating on-field playing rules. The guarantees do not void if: “Player is suspended for not more than one game for violation(s) of the Official NFL Playing Rules, or Player is suspended for violation(s) of the Official NFL Playing Rules that, in Club’s sole opinion, results from non-egregious conduct.”
In English, this means that Watson’s future guarantees can be voided if he is suspended for two or more games for violating the on-field playing rules, or if he is suspended for one or more game for violating on-field playing rules in a way that the team regards as “egregious.” (Merriam-Webster defines “egregious” as “conspicuous” or “flagrant.”)
So if Watson, who now has a pair of face mask fines and a fine for a “violent gesture” (i.e., pretending to fire a gun during a celebration) on his record, future violations could result, eventually, in a suspension. (Really, if he keeps grabbing defenders by the face mask and throwing them to the ground and/or shoving officials, a suspension is inevitable.) Then, if the Browns decide to dub the conduct as “egregious,” the Browns could invalidate those guarantees, brace for the inevitable grievance from the NFL Players Association, and hope for the best.
Here’s where things could potentially get twisted up and counterintuitive. The NFL might not want the Browns to avoid the future guarantees, as punishment for stepping out of ranks and giving him the guarantees in the first place.
Remember the reports that the league was being pressured by some owners to not suspend Watson for the full 2021 season so that it would count as the first year toward Cleveland’s five-year contract, leaving the Browns with only four years of Watson? There could be forces lurking behind Big Shield that don’t want the Browns to secure a get-out-of-fully-guaranteed-jail card. Thus, it’s possible that a high bar will apply when it comes to suspending him and potentially giving the Browns a way to avoid having to pay Watson $46 million in 2024, $46 million in 2025, and $46 million in 2026.
Regardless, if Watson keeps doing the things he did on Monday night in Pittsburgh, he could eventually have $138 million in future guarantees go away.