Commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to personally handle the Deshaun Watson appeal hearing. He will not be exercising it.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Goodell will not be handling the Watson appeal. He will designate the matter to someone outside the league office.
We don’t know who that is. A decent guess would be Mary Jo White, given that she has recently handled various “independent investigations” for the NFL, and in light of the fact that she does a very good job of giving her client what it wants.
Regardless of the specific name of the person retained to handle the Watson appeal, the key to getting more such work is to give the client what it wants. Even if the league calls the person “independent,” they really aren’t. They’ll 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 that the designee for the appeal will possibly be Condolleezza Rice, who is slated to officially become a part owner of the Broncos next week. Again, she wouldn’t be truly independent; she’s about to become an equity holder in one of the league’s teams. Her reputation, however, would make it easier for the league to sell to media and fans the possibility that she will be able to set aside other interests and make the right decision.
That said, Rice is an admitted Browns fan. Recently, Rice commented on the disciplinary process, advocating the importance of keeping an open mind but acknowledging the serious nature of the matter.