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What are the longest NFL suspensions, and how does Deshaun Watson’s 6-game suspension compare?

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was hit with a six-game suspension on Monday

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson walks on the field during NFL football training camp.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson walks on the field during NFL football training camp in Berea, Ohio, on Friday, July 29, 2022. Watson was suspended without pay for six games Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct made against him by two dozen women in Texas, two people familiar with the decision said.

David Dermer, Associated Press

A judge ruled Monday that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and should serve a six-game suspension without pay during the 2022 season.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and ESPN’s Adam Schefter both tweeted the news Monday morning, and later further details from the ruling emerged.

The sixth-year pro, who was traded from the Houston Texans to the Browns this offseason, has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women.

Former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson was jointly appointed to oversee the disciplinary case by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.   

According to documents shared by Shefter, Robinson wrote in her conclusion that while Watson’s suspension is “the most significant punishment ever imposed on an NFL player for allegations of non-violent sexual conduct, Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.”

The NFL and NFL Players Association have three days to appeal the decision, the NFL said in a statement shared by Rapoport. 

The NFLPA, though, released a statement Sunday night before the ruling saying it wouldn’t appeal the decision, and called on the NFL to do the same, according to ESPN

How does Deshaun Watson’s suspension compare to other recent NFL suspensions?

By comparison, two high-profile wide receivers are also suspended during the 2022 season.

How does Deshaun Watson’s suspension compare to historical NFL suspensions?

While not comprehensive, here is a historical look at some other lengthy NFL suspensions. Among them are a few related to sexual assault or domestic violence allegations:

  • In 2010, former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games — it was later reduced to four games — for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. He was accused of sexually assaulting a college student at a nightclub, according to ESPN.
  • While Roethlisberger wasn’t charged with a crime, at the time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Roethlisberger in a letter, according to Outkick, that “nothing about your conduct can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”
  • In 2014, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was initially suspended for two games following his arrest for domestic assault — the suspension later became indefinite after video surfaced of Rice punching his then-fiancee, according to NFL.com. Rice, who was released by the Ravens, appealed the decision and won in November 2014, per ESPN, though he was never signed by another NFL team.
  • In 2017, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games for his alleged role in a domestic violence case from the previous summer, according to Bleacher Report. An extensive investigation was conducted to look into “alleged multiple instances of physical violence in July 2016” between Elliott and his ex-girlfriend, according to a statement shared by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Elliott appealed the decision, though he ultimately served the suspension beginning with Week 10 in the 2017 season.
  • In 2014, running back Adrian Peterson missed the final 15 games after he was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child in September. In November, he pled no contest to the misdemeanor charge of recklessly assaulting his son and was suspended by the NFL for the remainder of the season on Nov. 19, before being reinstated in February, per Sports Illustrated.
  • In 2015, defensive tackle Greg Hardy was suspended 10 games for “conduct detrimental to the league,” according to NFL.com, following an investigation into an alleged domestic violence incident involving his ex-girlfriend. Hardy’s suspension was later reduced to four games. 

Here’s a look at several other notable suspensions:

  • In 2012, four New Orleans Saints players were handed suspensions as part of the Bountygate scandal — members of the organization were accused of handing out financial payouts, or bounties, for injuring opposing teams’ players. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was served a year suspension, the longest among the players’ suspensions, though former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned those suspensions in late December, according to ESPN.
  • Saints front office personnel were hit hardest for the scandal — head coach Sean Payton served a year suspension, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, a ruling overturned the following year, and general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended the first eight games of the 2012 season.
  • In 2008, Plaxico Burress was suspended four games after accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub and was charged with illegal weapons possession, per ESPN. He later served two years in prison on the charge before rejoining the league in 2011.
  • In 2016, seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady served a four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate controversy, though it took 18 months before Brady finally gave up his appeal and served the suspension, according to NFL.com
  • Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended five times for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, according to Sporting News, and missed all of the 2015, 2016 and 2020 seasons due to suspension.
  • In 2007, quarterback Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely for financing the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting ring. Vick served 21 months in jail before being reinstated in the NFL by Goodell in 2009, according to The Guardian.  

Two long-ago cases dealt with gambling-related suspensions:

  • In 1963, Green Bay’s Paul Hornung and Detroit’s Alex Karras were suspended for a year “for betting on NFL games and associating with gamblers,” according to ESPN. Both returned to the league the next year.
  • In 1946, the Giants’ Merle Hapes and Frank Filchock admitted they were offered $2,500 bribes to lose by more than the 10-point spread prior to that year’s NFL championship game — according to ESPN, Hapes made his admission to the game and was banned from playing, while Filchock didn’t say anything until after the game.
  • “Hapes never played again, and Filchock played in only one more game, four years later for the Baltimore Colts. Neither was accused of accepting the bribe and neither was officially banned,” ESPN wrote.