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Without Watson, are Browns Contenders or Pretenders?

Myles Garrett

Following an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, quarterback Deshaun Watson received an 11-game ban on Thursday, creating a buzz around the league and leaving many questions about how the Cleveland Browns will proceed in the aftermath. 

So, where do the Browns go from here? We asked our experts from The 33rd Team for their thoughts:

Mike Tannenbaum: Browns Could be in Trouble 

“An 11-game suspension for Deshaun Watson is going to make it very difficult for the Browns to win the division this year. The increased five-game suspension from his original suspension will be very meaningful in terms of the AFC North race this year.”

Chuck Pagano: Cleveland in Capable Hands

“Jacoby is a phenomenal, phenomenal teammate. His energy and competitive toughness when he was with us on the Colts were both striking, and he’ll certainly have brought that with him to Cleveland.

“From a talent standpoint, he's got an NFL arm. ... He's big and strong. He's mobile. He can get out of harm's way. He can make all the NFL throws. You know, from an intangible standpoint, he's very, very tough. He's smart. You've seen it. He started 37 games in the National Football League. So he's played a lot of football. He's a top, top competitor.

“The best thing is that, while Jacoby is talented, he doesn’t have to do it all. The Browns have built a talented roster. They run the ball extremely well with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Kevin Stefanski does a great job scheming and drawing those receivers open. He’ll do a good job of putting Brissett in the best possible position to win. Pair that with an elite offensive line and weapons on the outside like Amari Cooper and David Njoku and this offense is ready to help Jacoby shoulder the load. With a defense with top-5 potential, the Browns have built a team capable of ensuring they can win these six games while Watson is suspended.”

Matt Cassel: Time for Browns to Rally Together

“The biggest challenge is blocking out the outside noise surrounding the team, staying together and creating focus on the season amidst all the drama. In terms of Jacoby, he has been in the league for a long time, he’s been a starter and should approach this as an incredible opportunity to prove himself. His approach shouldn’t change now that the suspension is official."

T.J. McCreight: Lean on Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt

"Something that will be difficult to plan for is the one-two punch of Chubb and Hunt. Chubb and Hunt will need to carry the load for the Browns while Watson is sitting on the couch. Both running backs can churn out yards and are very capable in the passing game. An NFL defensive coordinator told me that if Chubb and Hunt were on the field at the same time it would be very difficult to prepare for. Expect the Browns to use both backs at the same time to take the pressure off of Brissett. "

Rich Gannon: Pieces in Place to Weather Storm

“The Browns aren’t in the best situation with Watson’s suspension, but they have the infrastructure in place to weather the storm.

“With Watson out, Brissett will be the starting quarterback. Kevin Stefanski has built the Browns with an identity of running the football and playing stout defense. The offensive line is talented and physical, with the ability to get nasty in the trenches. They’ve got two impressive backs – Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, arguably the best running back duo in the NFL.

“The defense, led by Myles Garrett, is built in a very similar way. They have budding young stars in the secondary, and players like Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome and Grant Delpit should keep the Browns competitive.”

Rick Spielman: Browns Need to Silence the Noise

“Noise from sports and national media alike will create distractions, which can severely affect a locker room, and further, affect their play on the field. When I was with the Vikings in 2014, Adrian Peterson was deactivated and eventually suspended by the commissioner. When the news first came out, our team was distracted, which led to a bad loss in Week 2 to New England. The distraction combined with losing such a critical piece to our offense affected us for the rest of the year. Cleveland’s roster must be able to silence the noise and remain focused on winning, which will be difficult to do.”