The NFL offseason is typically filled with wild ideas that, more times than not, never seem to come to fruition. This offseason, however, has had a different kind of energy.
Tom Brady retired and promptly unretired. Russell Wilson became a Bronco. Matt Ryan now plays in Indianapolis. Brian Flores got fired, announced he was suing the NFL and then was hired by the Steelers. That is just naming a few of the frenzies that have cropped up.
Perhaps there is no bigger news than the Cleveland Browns trading and then extending quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The move starts out as questionable, even just on paper. The Browns gave up an enormous amount of draft capital to land Watson. Watson seems to be an upgrade on the field over Baker Mayfield, though. It is still to be seen whether or not this upgrade is substantial enough to warrant the trade that went through.
There is much more to this story than a simple football move.
Deshaun Watson did not play a down in the NFL last year. It wasn’t because of injury, either. He is facing 22 sexual assault lawsuits, resulting in him being away from the team for the entirety of the past season.
The lawsuits range in nature, but all accuse Watson of some form of sexual misconduct.
Two juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on any criminal charges, meaning there wasn’t enough evidence to convict; but, that doesn’t mean Watson is off the hook in any sense.
It was after this announcement by the court in Texas that the Browns traded for Watson and gave him a five-year, 230 million fully guaranteed contract extension.
The fans of the Browns franchise have expressed their frustrations with taking on Watson. Female fans in particular are making their voices heard. Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam were not in attendance at the introductory press conference. The Browns claimed that they did their due diligence before agreeing to the trade.
There have been multiple forms of protest against the trade. A banner was hung over an overpass in Cleveland and fans organized at a Crew game to voice their displeasure.
Tony Buzbee, who represents the victims in this case, has said on multiple occasions that he was never contacted by any franchise looking to trade for Watson, nor has the NFL reached out in their ongoing investigation.
It seems likely that the NFL will eventually reach some form of conclusion with their own investigation. As a business, they are allowed to penalize Watson, even though the courts didn’t charge him.
Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley bet $4,000 on his team to win while he was away from the team for personal reasons. The NFL stepped in and suspended Ridley for the entire 2022-2023 season. It is doubtful that Watson will be punished with even half of that time off the field.
The Browns and Watson clearly thought this process through in regards to his looming suspension. There is a provision in the contract that will allow for all of his guarantees to remain if he were to be suspended. Additionally, his game checks, which would be lost if he were to be suspended, would only come out to about $60,000–which is next to nothing when compared to the other $230 million.
In the meantime, the Browns still have Baker Mayfield on the roster as a quarterback. Mayfield requested a trade before Watson made his way to Cleveland, and the Browns promptly shut that down. Now, with Watson on the roster, it seems highly unlikely that Baker Mayfield will remain. Where he ends up is still up in the air, though.
Considering the way that the Browns handled Baker Mayfield’s request, they are lucky that they still ended up with him, otherwise, they would have been left without a quarterback quite far into the offseason.
For a while, it did seem that the Browns were going to be in that heap of trouble. At one point during the team’s meetings with Watson, it was reported that the Browns were out of the running, with the Atlanta Falcons being the favorites to land Watson.
The report led some to believe that Watson was well on his way to Atlanta before Cleveland swooped in with their massive contract offer and changed his mind. The Browns had already soured their relationship with Baker Mayfield and might have been desperate for a replacement, so they threw a ton of guaranteed money at Watson and ended up changing his mind. In an Instagram story showing off his new Browns jerseys, there was a Deshaun Watson Falcons jersey still in frame, too.
While it does seem that a suspension is looming, the Browns and Deshaun Watson worked to minimize his financial losses during that time. Even so, the suspension will likely seem unsatisfactory when considering how the league has punished nonviolent offenses like gambling. Either way, this trade will end up defining this era for the Browns; if they win, for better or worse they will likely be forgiven. However, if they fall apart, they’ll never hear the end of it for mortgaging their future with the deal.