CLEVELAND — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has chosen former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal of the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson was suspended this week by independent disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who concluded he violated the league’s personal conduct policy after being accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women in Texas.

The league, which had been pushing for an indefinite suspension for Watson, wanted further discipline and appealed Robinson’s ruling on Wednesday. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the appeal gave the power back to Goodell to enact punishment but he instead chose Harvey, currently a partner at a law firm in New York.

In noting his qualifications, the league said Harvey “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.” Harvey has also served as Goodell’s designee in other arbitrations.

There is no timeline for when Harvey will hear the appeal. According to the league’s personal conduct policy, it must be processed on an expedited basis. Due in part to a public outcry that the suspension was too light, the league appealed Robinson’s decision and wants Watson disciplined further.

In her 16-page ruling, Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, called Watson’s behavior “egregious” and “predatory.” The women alleged he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them during massage therapy sessions when the quarterback played for the Houston Texans.


The former federal judge concluded that Watson violated the league’s policy by engaging in unwanted sexual contact with another person, endangering the safety and well-being of another person and undermining the league’s integrity.

However, in imposing the six-game suspension, Robinson pointed out flaws in the league’s guidelines for player misconduct, which limited her authority to penalize him.

Robinson did stipulate in her punishment that Watson must use only club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career.

FLORES LAWSUIT: A judge on Thursday made it likely she’ll rule in weeks rather than months whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gets to decide the merits of racial discrimination claims made by Black coaches against the league and its teams, saying an effort to gather more evidence seems like “an impermissible fishing expedition.”

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said in a written ruling that lawyers for coaches Brian Flores, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton cannot gather additional evidence from defendants to support their arguments that the lawsuit in Manhattan federal court should remain in court rather than be sent to arbitration.

Her ruling makes it likely that a decision on whether to move the case to arbitration or let it remain in Manhattan federal court will be decided in weeks rather than months.


STEELERS: Pittsburgh and Pro Bowl wide receiver Diontae Johnson agreed to a three-year deal on Thursday that runs through the 2024 season and will reportedly pay Johnson more than $39 million over the next three years.

Johnson was entering the final season of the rookie deal he signed after being taken in the third round of the 2019 draft. The 26-year-old caught a career-best 107 passes for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns last season for Pittsburgh.

Johnson skipped a portion of the team’s voluntary offseason program and while he arrived at training camp on time, he did not participate in any 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills in an effort to protect his health.

Pittsburgh General Manager Omar Khan said Tuesday the team wanted to keep Johnson in the fold “for a long time.”

Instead, the Steelers and Johnson came to terms on a deal that offers both a little flexibility. It doesn’t lock Pittsburgh into a long-term situation if Johnson regresses and gives Johnson a chance to really cash in during his prime if he outplays the deal.

BRONCOS: Denver signed free agent receiver Darrius Shepherd, who played for the Green Bay Packers for two years and played this spring for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL.

Shepherd takes the roster spot that opened up when the Broncos’ leading receiver, Tim Patrick, was placed on the IR on Wednesday with a season-ending torn right ACL.

Shepherd is a 5-foot-11, 186-pound third-year pro out of North Dakota State who appeared in 14 regular season games with Green Bay from 2019-20, when Broncos first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett was the Packers’ offensive coordinator.

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