Who I do feel sympathy for are Browns fans. Sure, their team has struggled to find a quarterback since returning to the NFL in 1999 and would take any decent solution that’d present itself. Unfortunately, the acquisition of Watson was akin to a deal with the devil. Even if Watson led Cleveland to a Super Bowl, wouldn’t diehard Brownie supporters feel at least a little gross about it?
The fans didn’t ask to be put in this awkward position. Many who’ve been loyal to this dumpster fire franchise for years bailed on them once the infamous move was made. However, the vast majority stuck with their team through thick and thin. I guess that’s what you do when you’re in a toxic relationship and sh*t is stacked so high that after a while, you become almost numb to it.
Watching GM Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski try to justify/defend a deplorable trade and fully guaranteed contract — no doubt commanded by disgraceful owner Jimmy Haslam — was squirm-inducing and skin-crawling. Berry and Stefanski are Ivy League graduates. Their brains were tied in knots in those early press conferences. Brutal to watch such articulate, intelligent men reduced to meat-puppet automatons who are apparently bereft of humanity.
Beyond all the problematic off-field and moral implications of Watson being in Cleveland, it’s getting to the point where the deal to acquire a supposed elite QB is really hurting the Browns’ bottom line.
The #Browns went all-in for this season with Deshaun Watson when they restructured his contract in the offseason to bring his cap hit down to $19M for 2023.
The Super Bowl window for this team as it’s constructed is literally right now. I don’t think many would’ve said that entering this season until we saw beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Browns have a championship-caliber defense.
Watson is the one who hasn’t been holding up his end of the bargain. That is, until he completed all 14 of his second-half passes in last Sunday’s stunning win over the Ravens. There have been flashes of good play before then, yet not the type of superstar performance that Watson used to showcase in Houston.
…And here’s the thing about the contract. The Browns brass can yammer on all they want about how they didn’t restructure Watson’s deal purely so they weren’t eating many millions of dollars while he was suspended and so forth. We all know the truth. Joke’s on you, Cleveland. Now you’re footing the bill for, what, $191.7 million in fully guaranteed salary over the next three seasons for a guy who’s finished 2023 a fraction ahead of Desmond Ridder in passer rating? Yikes.
In all likelihood, we’ve seen the best of Deshaun Watson as a football player. It just seems like a stretch to think a guy will regain the form he had back in 2020 given how little actual game experience he’ll have had between the end of that year and Week 1 of the 2024 campaign.
This whole fiasco goes beyond the Watson-Browns of it all. Watson’s mere presence in Cleveland created a QB butterfly effect that hilariously left the Browns worse off than any potential alternative they could’ve pursued. First of all, they unceremoniously kicked Baker Mayfield to the curb off an injury-plagued 2021 season once they were dead set on Watson. Although Baker has bounced around since, he settled in Tampa this year and has objectively played better football than the man who replaced him in Cleveland.
THEN, you have our favorite single storyline in the NFL around these parts: Joshua Dobbs. Once it became clear that Kyler Murray was coming back for the Cardinals, Dobbs was on the trade block and ultimately moved to Minnesota on Halloween. Since landing with the Vikings, he’s gone 2-0 and is playing at an exceptional level.
…You know who could use an excellent spot starter like Dobbs right now? The Cleveland Browns! Now I just want to check on something and refresh my memory as to where Dobbs’ 2023 season began and — …
Oh, right. It was in Cleveland.
The Browns traded 3x 1st round picks, a 3rd and a 4th for Deshaun Watson AND gave him a $230m guaranteed contract.
And atm it's not immediately clear that he's better than Josh Dobbs, who the team traded away for a 5th-round pick.
The Watson news reminds me of how Josh Dobbs said on his podcast last week his agent told him he was getting dealt at the deadline to the Vikings or back to the Browns. Cleveland botched that a few times.
Can you believe the Browns couldn’t scrounge up enough draft capital to reel Dobbs back in after they’d already let him get away mere months ago? It’s almost like if they hadn’t sacrificed three first-rounders for Watson, they’d feel more comfortable pulling the trigger on such a deal!
And how about how much the Houston Texans have profited from the Watson trade? Sure, they had to go through a problematic couple of years, where they essentially hired two one-and-done lame-duck black head coaches. Rough look PR-wise. All’s well that ends well, though, because DeMeco Ryans is looking like a long-term mainstay in that spot, and the frequent losing post-Watson led to CJ Stroud’s arrival.
That’s right. The No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft is in the MVP conversation. As a rookie, Stroud looks arguably better than Watson did at any time during his peak. Now Watson may have been statistically better in some respects and was always more of a threat as a runner.
But in terms of doing more with less, pure pocket passing and the ability to overcome subpar o-line personnel, Stroud is already superior.
Who knows what the Browns’ quarterback room would look like had they just avoided chasing Watson in the first place. But it’s beyond funny that they’ve screwed themselves to such a severe degree. Meanwhile, there are literally three different teams whose fortunes were impacted in some way by the Watson trade and who are in far healthier shape QB-wise than Cleveland is.
I mean, think about it. Watson’s albatross of a contract created immediate championship-or-bust expectations for the Browns. Tampa Bay is playing with house money, with an us-against-the-world mentality, and are only a half-game back of first place in the NFC South. Despite losing Kirk Cousins to a torn Achilles, Dobbs’ arrival has kept the Vikings’ ship afloat. They’re firmly in the NFC Wild Card mix. Then, the Texans’ apparent multi-year rebuild is no longer a rebuild at all thanks to Stroud’s phenomenal play to date.
You really can’t make this up. If you’re not going to go with the “karma” angle, it’s hard to argue that the Cleveland Browns aren’t categorically cursed harder than just about any franchise in professional sports. As bad as it’s been for the past quarter-century or so, the biblical Deshaun Watson disaster may be the worst of all.