The report on Friday that prosecutors have begun a grand jury investigation of Deshaun Watson shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising, however, is that it wasn’t the only development affecting the Houston Texans quarterback’s future.
That’s because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office delivered a big clue about how the league will handle its anticipated disciplinary action against Watson.
Deshaun Watson’s future remains cloudy
The dual-path drama playing out for the entire offseason — Watson’s demand to be traded plus the civil case against him that could turn criminal — is ongoing. Watson arrived at training camp late last month but is not participating in practices.
KRIV-TV in Houston cited sources Friday in reporting that a grand jury is hearing evidence from the police investigation into Watson, the subject of 10 criminal complaints of sexual assault or misconduct. Yahoo! Sports reported that prosecutors are seeking testimony from several accusers. The district attorney’s office issued a statement declining comment.
Separately, Watson faces 22 civil lawsuits filed by female massage therapists who have accused him of a variety of acts, including forced oral sex. SI.com reported that NFL investigators have spoken to 10 of the accusers.
The existence of multiple civil suits had already cast doubt on whether Watson could start the 2021 season with the Texans or any other team. The possibility of criminal charges has always loomed, and convening a grand jury further drives that possibility home.
Deshaun Watson and the Texans are digesting related news
The Associated Press reported on June 23 that prosecutors in Virginia’s Loudoun County had dropped four misdemeanor charges against former Washington Football Team running back Derrius Guice after he reached an agreement with the woman who accused him of assault and battery in a domestic violence case.
Prosecutors did not reveal details of the agreement that Guice’s former girlfriend approved. While the arrangement eliminated the possibility of jail time for Guice, who has been out of football since the WFT waived him on Aug. 9, 2020, the former LSU star doesn’t have a clear path back to the NFL. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Friday that the NFL has suspended Guice for six games to start the 2021 season.
Separately, Guice’s name appears in sexual assault and harassment complaints stemming from his days at LSU, though he has not been charged.
The parallels between Guice and Watson are apparent. The fact that the former WFT player with minimal prospects of playing in the NFL again has been suspended for six games anyway should alarm Watson. For the Texans, the move further diminishes trade value.
The NFL has faced scrutiny over disciplinary policies
A combination of its own policies, the disciplinary procedures spelled out in collective bargaining agreements with the players’ union, and changing public sentiments toward misbehavior have put the NFL under closer scrutiny when it comes to disciplining players.
The pivotal recent flashpoint came in 2014. On Feb. 15 of that year, police took Ray Rice into custody following an altercation in an Atlantic City casino elevator. A grand jury indicted him on an aggravated assault charge the following month, and the NFL announced a two-game suspension on July 25. Prosecutors dropped the criminal charges after Rice agreed to undergo counseling, but the Baltimore Ravens released the running back before the start of the season.
After TMZ.com released a video showing Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée from the elevator, the NFL reacted to public outrage by announcing that the league was suspending him indefinitely. However, Rice successfully appealed on the grounds that the NFL could not punish him twice for the same incident.
Other than recovering lost salary, winning was a moot point for Rice because he never played another down in the NFL. However, the series of events compelled Goodell to become more forceful in future disciplinary actions.
Goodell suspended free-agent lineman Rodney Austin in September 2015 and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2017 for six games apiece stemming from domestic violence cases.
The Guice development signals trouble for Watson. His expected suspension could last seasons rather than weeks if prosecutors go forward with a criminal case.