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Will NFL appeal allow Deshaun Watson to play vs. Patriots in Week 6? It's complicated

Dolphins stripped of two draft picks for tampering with Tom Brady
Dolphins stripped of two draft picks for tampering with Tom Brady 04:24

BOSTON -- The NFL -- and most of America -- believed that the six-game suspension issued to Deshaun Watson by Judge Sue Robinson was an insufficient punishment, especially considering Robinson concluded that Watson had committed sexual assault. As such, the NFL will be appealing that ruling in an effort to impose a more severe punishment.

In doing so, the NFL might open up a window for Watson to actually play while some legal proceedings play out. Maybe. But ... probably not.

As you may (or may not) remember back in the DeflateGate days, the NFLPA and Brady appealed the NFL's four-game suspension in 2015, a case which went Brady's way in the summer of 2015. But the NFL then appealed that ruling to the next level of courts, a process which didn't take place until after the 2015 season. In the meantime, Brady was able to play for the entire 2015 season. Only after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the spring of 2016 to reinstate the suspension did Brady lose the fight, leading to him serving that four-game suspension in September of 2016.

Ezekiel Elliott was also allowed to play during his own suspension appeal in 2017.

Might a similar scenario arise for Watson, thus allowing him to play while his eventual appeal awaits to be processed in the federal court system?

The answer appears to be unclear, though most indications are that Watson won't be on the field to start the year.

NFL Network's Judy Battista addressed that question and said that even the involved parties might not know the answer just yet:

"Yes, there is a chance [Watson could play to start this season]. This is tricky, and it's an element of unknown, because this is the first time we're going through this with this new policy. But yes, the expectation is that if the NFL increases the suspension by a large amount, that the players' association will go to federal court. And in that case, they would seek a temporary restraining order and now, the question is: If they got a temporary restraining order, when would it kick in? We've seen in past cases -- Ezekiel Elliott, Tom Brady -- that a temporary restraining order allowed the player to play, to be on the field while everything was playing out in court. But that might not be the case here because we already know there's going to be at least a six-game suspension. And so the question is would a temporary restraining order start immediately and get him off the field for Week 1, or when would that restraining order kick in? It's a little bit murky. There's unknowns for both the PA and the league here because again, this is the first time anybody has been through this."

According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, though, the answer might be a lot more simple.

Florio noted that unless the NFLPA appeals the initial six-game suspension from Judge Robinson, then the six-game suspension is no longer in dispute. Considering the NFLPA stated before the suspension had even been announced that it would not be appealing Judge Robinson's ruling, that would seem to take care of the issue altogether. Put more simply, Watson and the NFLPA don't appear to have a desire to fight the six-game suspension, so that suspension is likely to remain as the basis for punishment.

The murkiness would show up after that six-week window, as Watson would need a real court to feel compelled to allow him to play while fighting the longer suspension that we can assume the NFL will issue following the forthcoming kangaroo court process.

That process may impact the Browns and their opponents after Week 6, but it would appear as though Cleveland's opponents for the first six weeks of the season -- including the Patriots in Week 6 -- likely won't have to worry about facing the Pro Bowl quarterback this year.

Yet as is always the case when it comes to NFL discipline and the intermingling with the United States' court system, it's best to always be prepared for a curveball or two, so there may not be a definitive answer any time soon.

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