The Cleveland Browns made several separate major investments in quarterback Deshaun Watson. They gave up three first-round picks as well as a pair of mid-round picks in order to get him. They gave him $230 million guaranteed over five years. They accepted the public scorn and blowback that such a move for a player with his background would inevitably create. And they also accepted the possibility of their 2022 season being significantly compromised because of it all.
While Watson has thus far escaped any criminal prosecution across the 10 criminal complaints standing against him, there remain 22 civil lawsuits that he has recently vowed not to settle. The NFL is conducting its own independent investigation into the claims within the lawsuits, and they, unlike the teams that pursued him, have spoken to a number of his accusers.
The league has already set ample precedence in issuing suspensions for players who were never charged with a crime, under the guise of protecting the integrity of the game. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games, though later reduced to four, in 2010. Ray Rice, Kareem Hunt, and Ezekiel Elliott are some other high-profile players suspended for their conduct involving women—although they never suspended Tyreek Hill.
Almost everybody assumes that a suspension for Watson is inevitable, somewhere in the four- to eight-game range. The Browns understand that they have to prepare for every eventuality, and while they technically still have Baker Mayfield on the roster, they are speaking in terms of their new backup, Jacoby Brissett.
“Until we know that final answer, we’re speaking in hypotheticals right now”, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters yesterday when he was asked about starting the season with Watson potentially serving a suspension, from Mark Maske of the Washington Post. “But we’ve got to be ready, whenever a decision is made, potentially to go with Jacoby or not. So we’ll wait and see what the league [does]”.
The Browns acquired Brissett on March 25 after finalizing the Watson trade, parting ways with Case Keenum in the process by sending him to the Buffalo Bills for a seventh-round pick, where he will replace Mitch Trubisky—now likely the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starter for 2022—as Josh Allen’s backup.
Brissett started five of 11 games last season for the Miami Dolphins, going 2-3. He completed 141 of 225 pass attempts for 1,283 yards with five touchdowns to four interceptions. He is 14-23 all-time as a starter, with 37 starts in 60 games, throwing for 7,742 yards with 36 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.
Watson did not dress for a game in 2021. He is 28-25 as a starter with 14,539 passing yards, with 104 touchdowns to just 36 interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in every year in which he started more than six games, from 2018-20.