The Cleveland Browns are facing a tough reality right now. Deshaun Watson is going to be suspended, and they don't have Baker Mayfield to back him up as he's just not going to suit up for them ever again.
Some believe that the league is set to make an example out of him. He could face another full season on the sidelines, all but dooming any chance they had of making a deep playoff run this season.
Nonetheless, it seems like there's still some hope for Watson and the Browns. Apparentely, a loophole in the CBA would allow the NFL and NFLPA to consider Watson was already facing a suspension last season.
A Loophole In The CBA Could Favor Deshaun Watson
(Transcript via ProFootballTalk)
“Players who are placed by the Commissioner on the Exempt list prior to the determination of discipline and any appeal therefrom under the Personal Conduct Policy will be paid while on the Commissioner Exempt list and credited for the regular and postseason games missed against any suspension ultimately imposed.
Notwithstanding any other provision in this Agreement, if such a suspension is ultimately imposed, the player must promptly return and shall have no further right to any salary for the games for which he was paid while on the Commissioner Exempt list that were credited to the suspension (i.e., for a number of games no greater than the length of the suspension).”
Simply put, Watson could treat last year as a de facto suspension. He'd had to forfeit his entire $10 million salary. Then, according to Mike Florio, the league could simply add half of next season to that suspension and he could still be back in 2022.
"Now for the idea. The NFL and the NFL Players Association, acting on Watson’s behalf, could agree that 2021 will be treated as a suspension, with Watson losing the $10 million he was paid. Also, he’ll miss eight games to start the 2022 season," wrote Florio.
"He missed all of 2021. That should count for something. Moreover, this approach would give the league a way to create the impression that it imposed significant punishment on Watson: 25 total games, without pay," Florio concluded.
Of course, this is all just speculation. But at least it seems like there's a light at the end of the tunnel for them.