Conventional wisdom always told us the Cleveland Browns didn’t expect Deshaun Watson to lead them on a Super Bowl run this season.
How could they?
A suspension had long been looming for the quarterback, who was facing two dozen allegations of improper activity with female massage therapists. The Browns were aware Watson wouldn’t be available for all 17 regular-season games and understood he might not even play in any.
That was why it was reasonable to assume, despite giving up three first-round draft picks and agreeing to the richest guaranteed contract in NFL history, the Browns saw their staggering investment in Watson as a down payment on major success in 2023 and beyond.
Thursday’s settlement between the NFL and the NFLPA that resulted in Watson being suspended for 11 games this season and paying a $5 million fine probably qualifies as the best-case scenario for that vision.
No, Watson won’t play enough to likely have a meaningful impact on the Browns’ fortunes in 2022.
Yes, he’ll at least have the chance to provide a spark through the home stretch of the schedule and conceivably help create a foundation on which the Browns can build for next year and beyond.
This isn’t to suggest the punishment fits the transgressions. We’re talking about a settlement, which means there was give and take from both sides. There was no doubt many who believe the league did too much giving by not insisting Watson miss all of this season, and that his banishment from the NFL be, at a minimum, indefinite.
Judging strictly from a football standpoint, the Browns, while unhappy to not have Watson for most of 2022, must be pleased they have him for part of the year … and beyond.
General manager Andrew Berry seemingly acknowledged as much by telling reporters the team’s decision-making on Watson would have been the same regardless of how things have played out since he was acquired.
“We mentioned at the time our process was thorough, we felt like we made an informed decision,” Berry said. “I understand why others may not have made the same decision that we did, but we do believe Deshaun has strong, positive qualities, and we do think that he’s done everything in his power to integrate himself with our team. He’s done everything we’ve asked. We do believe that, as he goes through the self-improvement and self-growth process, that he has an opportunity to make a strong and positive contribution to our team and organization.”
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told reporters there were two reasons the team wouldn’t hesitate to hand Watson the starting job once he served his suspension. One was the willingness to give the player a second chance.
“Is he never supposed to play again?” Haslam said. “Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That’s what we’re gonna do.”
The second reason the Browns will welcome Watson back with open arms goes to the heart of what drove them to pursue him in the first place, despite all the baggage he carried.
“You can say that’s because he’s a star quarterback,” Haslam said. “Well, of course.”
Meanwhile, all he can do is what he expected to do in the first place: Wait.