Analysis: Giving Deshaun Watson $230 million guaranteed has become a disaster for the Browns
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Giving Deshaun Watson a fully guaranteed $230 million contract has turned into another disaster for the Cleveland Browns.
It’s the biggest one yet for a franchise known for its failures.
Watson will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury that requires surgery, a devastating blow for a 6-3 team with a stingy defense and playoff hopes.
The ramifications of the injury extend far beyond this season, too.
Watson is owed $46 million each of the next three years with a cap hit of almost $64 million per season. That’s a ton of money for a guy who could be damaged goods.
“It’s going to be a couple of months,” Watson said about his rehab. “And the biggest thing is mobility and just the range of motion and then the strength and stuff will work out. But I’m going to be working with some great doctors and great staff that dealt with this process before with a lot of professional baseball guys and make sure that I come back even better than before.”
Browns general manager Andrew Berry said Watson is expected to be ready for the start of next season. However, a displaced fracture to the glenoid isn’t a common injury for quarterbacks so it’s reasonable to have doubts.
“Although it may be unusual for a quarterback with a throwing shoulder, the medical process moving forward is very clear to us,” Berry said.
“It’s very clear to Deshaun, it’s very clear to the docs, and we do feel really good about him returning and playing at the level that we’re accustomed to. … It’s not like Deshaun’s the first quarterback to suffer this injury in his throwing shoulder, but … you usually do see it with other positions. But he should make a strong recovery.”
The Browns made a significant investment in Watson out of desperation, hoping the risky move would end their decades-long search for a franchise quarterback.
They were willing to trade three first-round picks to Houston and had to give Watson the richest guaranteed contract in NFL history just to persuade him to come to Cleveland.
Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the entire organization were sharply criticized from a public relations standpoint because Watson was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and harassment during massage therapy sessions.
They also ticked off other owners because Watson’s unprecedented deal raised the contract demands for other quarterbacks, though nobody has since received more guaranteed money.
But the move doesn’t look like a wise one from a football perspective, either.
Watson had already sat out the 2021 season while facing allegations because he wanted a trade. He was suspended the first 11 games in 2022. He wasn’t sharp when he returned for the final six games last season and his best football with the Browns came in the second half of Sunday’s 33-31 comeback win over Baltimore after he sustained the shoulder injury.
The Browns were 8-4 in Watson’s 12 starts over the first two seasons, though he didn’t resemble the three-time Pro Bowl QB he was with the Texans. He threw for 2,217 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions with an 81.7 passer rating in those games.
“We feel good about Deshaun,” Berry said. “We see how talented he is. We could see it since he returned from his last injury, the level that he is able to play. He’s smart, he’s physically tough, he’s mentally tough.”
Berry and the Browns have to be all-in on Watson because they have no other choice. They’re locked into his contract for three more years with no way out. Berry confirmed Watson’s deal is “guaranteed for skill, injury and cap.”
The Texans own Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2024 from the trade so the Browns would have to find other assets to get in position to draft a top QB in a rich class next spring. They can’t afford another veteran quarterback with so much money allocated to Watson under the cap in 2024-26.
For the Browns, it’s Watson or bust. The first two years have been a flop.
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