Deshaun Watson could remain eligible for 2021 season as NFL waits for legal process to play out
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Deshaun Watson is under criminal investigation after facing allegations of sexual assault, and that has left his NFL status up in the air. Many expected him to either be suspended or placed on the commissioner’s exempt list by now, but Watson continues to prepare for the regular season. Is it possible he could remain eligible the entire year?

As Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports noted over the weekend, the fact that Watson is the target of a criminal investigation may actually work in his favor for NFL eligibility. Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, confirmed this week that the NFL has yet to interview Watson about the allegations against him. That is because the NFL does not want to stand in the way of law enforcement.

“If you talk to any prosecutor or investigator, they don’t want the NFL out there, quite frankly, mucking in their case,” Hardin told reporters on Wednesday. “And the NFL recognizes that. The NFL investigators are former prosecutors. They understand that process. So in due time, we will be interfacing with the NFL, but not yet.”

While Roger Goodell has the power to place Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list at any time, he may want to hear from the quarterback and some others involved in the situation before doing so. Both Watson and at least one of the reported victims are reportedly being investigated by the FBI, so Goodell may feel that he can’t make an informed decision until there is more legal clarity.

As Robinson explained, Antonio Brown was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list but was never being criminally investigated. Other players like Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy had already been charged. That is not the case with Watson, and there is no telling how quickly or slowly the case will progress.

“The NFL regularly tries to not reach out to the defendant and his lawyers and seek evidence from them until the criminal investigation is over,” Hardin added. “Historically, they want to make sure they don’t interfere with the criminal investigation. When the criminal investigation is over, then they will do their own separate finishing up.”

Watson is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation in Texas, though Hardin downplayed that this week. The Texans might even be hoping that something happens with the case, as Watson recently snapped at the media (video here) and has been a distraction in training camp. But until that happens, it may simply be business as usual for his eligibility.

This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.

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