After Deshaun Watson received his suspension, the NFL stepped in to change course. Retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson found that the Cleveland Browns quarterback was guilty of sexual assault (by the NFL's definition) but only suspended him for six games. The league appealed the decision with the hopes of instituting an indefinite suspension and fine.

The league will be going back and forth with the NFLPA, potentially in federal court, to handle Watson's punishment. According to Judy Battista of NFL Network, the NFL could institute a restraining order for Watson as they make the case for a harsher penalty. However, the time that the order would go into effect is not clear, leaving the possibility open for Watson to play for Cleveland in Week 1.

The Browns face former franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. They start the season on the road before hosting the New York Jets in Week 2.

The NFL was originally hoping for a suspension of at least 12 games — though not for any serious disciplinary reason — for Watson. The Browns quarterback getting off the hook made the league, which is already notorious for bungling situations involving domestic abuse, look even worse.

The NFL used a third party to hand down a suspension for the first time after altering its disciplinary policy in 2020. Since they see Deshaun Watson's case as one with no precedent, as NFL Network's Tom Pelissero noted, they are looking to institute a harsher penalty for his behavior. As they do so, they may allow him to get at least one game in with the Browns.