With the disappointing loss in the Wildcard Round of the NFL playoffs, the Cleveland Browns begin their 2024 off-season. During the end of the season press conference, Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski expressed with certainty that Deshaun Watson is the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. The real concern of Watson is the recovery from the shoulder surgery of his throwing shoulder. Stefanski did say that “he was on schedule with his rehab.” With the playoff loss to Houston many trolls and national pundits lamented the Watson trade itself, let’s cut through the noise and discuss the facts.
One myth being presented was that no one else wanted Watson, that was not true. In March of 2022, the Cleveland Browns did trade for Deshaun Watson and signed him to a five-year $230 million dollar contract fully guaranteed. Houston received 2022, 2023, and 2024 first-round picks. A 2023 third-round and a 2024 fourth-round pick. In return the Browns got Deshaun Watson and a 2024 fifth-round pick. The pundits and podcasters outside of Cleveland are more hung up on the fully guaranteed money than anything else. Also, the issues that Watson had outside of football did not help. The Browns knew that in 2022 Watson was going to be suspended for a significant amount of time. In 2022 he served a 12-week suspension and played in the final six games of that season. To trade for Deshaun the Cleveland Browns beat out three other teams. The New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons all lost out to the Browns to get Watson. There were at least ten other teams that inquired about Watson to the Houston Texans at that time. Watson himself at his introductory press conference said the guaranteed contract wasn’t discussed until after he made his decision. He did say why he chose Cleveland over the other teams.
Another myth is that the Browns had to bribe Watson with guaranteed money. That is not true, Watson himself said that why he picked the Browns was because of how impressed he was with Coach Stefanski when he met with him. It was reported at one time that Watson did rule out Cleveland. But the Browns owner, GM and head coach flew to Houston and made one final pitch to Deshaun and that changed his mind. So, if Deshaun didn’t want to be in Cleveland, he wouldn’t be. The guaranteed money is what was negotiated with Watson’s agent and the team after his decision to come to Cleveland. This leads to another myth of the Browns salary cap situation.
Browns fans often hear from other NFL fans about the $230 million dollars of guaranteed money. The myth and the perception of the Browns salary cap situation are why that is often said. According to Overthecap.com Watson makes $46 million dollars annually. That is what is counted towards the salary cap. His annual salary today is 7th in the NFL. The highest salary is Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow at $55 million a year for five years, $275 million total and $219 million guaranteed. That is only 11 million dollars less than Watson in guaranteed money. The NFL salary cap can be manipulated with contract restructures and extensions to be made with players the team wishes to keep on their roster. So theoretically Andrew Berry can restructure Watson’s contract this offseason and possibly extend him in the 2025 offseason to lower his cap hit. Also, keep in mind that the NFL salary cap is expected to increase every year in the foreseeable future. If the Haslam family is willing to pay the contract restructuring of key players, this is sustainable for the Cleveland Browns. Others say that the draft capital was too much to give up for one player. Which leads to the final myth of the Watson trade.
The final myth of the Watson trade is that the first-round draft picks were too much to give up for one player. When it comes to draft picks no one truly knows if they are good until almost three years after they were picked. First-round draft picks are expected to play and contribute immediately. The 2022 and the 2023 drafts brought us later-round talent that has contributed immediately. CB Martin Emerson Jr was a third-round pick in 2022. He is a very good starter to complement CB Denzel Ward. In the fourth round of 2023, the Browns drafted OT Dawand Jones. He was called on to start for injured Jack Conklin in Week One. He played like an NFL starting tackle. He is also 6’10” and 350 lbs. The Browns were still able to find first-round talent in the last two NFL drafts. The Houston Texans did take advantage of the draft capital from the trade. Houston made other trades and drafted Kenyon Green, John Metchie III, Christian Harris, Dameon Pierce and Thomas Booker. They did use one of the picks from the Browns to move up in the draft and get edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. Also, Tank Dell, Xavier Hutchinson and Brandon Hill were Texans draft picks. Time will tell of the full impact these players will have for Houston. Just like time will tell how Deshaun will play for Cleveland.
So, who won this trade?
As of today, Houston has won the trade. They are a young and promising NFL team. I am seeing the same buzz about them as I saw for Jacksonville last year at this time. The reason why I am saying that Houston won the trade is only because Deshaun has only played in 12 games in the last two years. He missed a lot of time due to injuries or suspension. Availability will be his best ability in 2024. He can change his style of play by sliding and getting out of bounds more to avoid any unnecessary hits. Watson has three years left on his contract with the Browns. The Browns are making changes to the offensive coaching staff to put Watson in the best situation for success. And the jury is still out on Deshaun Watson in Cleveland. But if what Browns fans saw in the 2023 games with Tennessee, Arizona, Cincinnati and the second half in Baltimore is any indication of what is to come, I can be writing a completely different article in 2025.