Commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to personally manage Deshaun Watson’s appeal hearing. He will not exercise it.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Goodell will not process Watson’s appeal. He will entrust the file to a person outside the league office.
We don’t know who it is. A decent guess would be Mary Jo White, given that she’s recently conducted various “independent investigations” for the NFL, and in light of the fact that she does a pretty good job of giving her client what he wants.
Regardless of the specific name of the person selected to handle the Watson call, the key to getting more work like this is giving the customer what they want. Even if the league calls the person “independent”, they really aren’t. They will have some sort of hope for an ongoing business relationship with the league, and that will influence the decision-making process.
A separate source with knowledge of the process suggested the person named for the appeal may be Condolleezza Rice, who is expected to officially become part-owner of the Broncos next week. Again, she wouldn’t be truly independent; she is about to become a shareholder of one of the league’s teams. Her reputation, however, would make it easier for the league to sell to the media and fans the possibility that she could set aside other interests and make the right decision.
That said, Rice is an avowed Browns fan. Recently, Rice commented on the disciplinary process, advocating the importance of keeping an open mind but acknowledging the seriousness of the matter.