For a team that has one non-losing record in the past decade and a half, the Cleveland Browns sure seem to have gotten themselves between a rock and a hard place. This is primarily due to their decision to go all-in on quarterback Deshaun Watson last year, which cost them plenty of resources both in draft capital and cash and cap space.
Writing for The Athletic, beat writer Zac Jackson argued, “The Browns have to be in win-now mode”. They basically have no choice; it’s the decision that they made a year ago when they committed $230 million to Watson over a five-year period.
“The Browns gave out $400 million in guarantees last year through various contracts, extensions and reworked deals following trades they made to acquire Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper”, he pointed out. “They’ve pushed major salary-cap commitments to 2023 and 2024 to put together a team that should be better than it’s been the last two seasons”.
Despite the money spent, he argues that “glaring holes” persist in their defensive front and “represent major failures” from the past regarding personnel. But they will have a bit of cap room to work with, initially, and could create more by restructuring the contract of Myles Garrett.
The Browns only went 7-10 last season, but of course, it’s hard to view that as the true start of the Watson era. He was suspended for the first 11 games, and Jacoby Brissett finished with a 4-7 record as a starter. Watson went 3-3 but also lost two of his final three games despite playing better.
Overall, the former three-time Pro Bowler went 99-for-170 passing for 1,102 yards with seven touchdowns to five interceptions. He also rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown, with one fumble during his time on the field.
The Browns carry a cap hit just a hair below $55 million for Watson in each of the next four seasons, and none of that is movable. He also has a no-trade clause, so even if Cleveland were eventually willing to part with him for cheap and even eat much of his salary, the quarterback could blow up any deal.
It was the action of a desperate franchise, without question, but there is still the possibility that he could be a good and successful quarterback, even as he struggles to be a good and successful human. The latter doesn’t exactly appear to be in his wheelhouse, but it’s easier to hide than your on-field performance.
It remains to be seen if Cleveland was prepared for a ‘win-now’ phase after only managing to reach the postseason once in two decades. They convinced themselves that Watson would be their savior. Now they don’t have much choice but to watch and see how it plays out.