The Cleveland Browns are now 2-5 on the season through seven weeks, and the playoffs are now almost assuredly out of the question. The hope was that with the talent on the roster and Jacoby Brissett doing just enough, the team could stay afloat in the playoff race until $230 million quarterback, Deshaun Watson, comes back from suspension in Week 13. Now, that seems like a pipe dream, which means the $45 million the team paid Watson this season is down the drain. And if things don’t go right next season and beyond, the Browns might have made the most expensive mistake in NFL history.
The Browns 2022 season is already over
All the Browns needed to do was keep the team around .500 through the first two-thirds of the season while Deshaun Watson serves his 11-game suspension for his sexual misconduct involving two dozen female masseuses.
They haven’t been able to do that.
The Browns are 2-5 through Week 7 and face a challenging next three games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, and Buffalo Bills (with a Week 9 bye). That looks like at least two more losses, if not three, for the Browns, who’ve already lost the last four straight.
The Browns defense is ranked 28th in the league, and Kevin Stefanski has made some questionable coaching decisions during this streak. However, QB Jacoby Brissett has been the biggest issue.
After starting the season on a positive note — a 2-1 record, a 66.3% completion rate, and four touchdowns to one interception — the wheels have fallen off the last four games. Brissett is 0-4 as the starter and has a 61.1% completion rate and two TD to four INTs.
With both the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals ahead of them in the AFC North and the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, and Los Angeles Chargers all ahead of them in the AFC Wild Card race, there is a good chance the Browns miss the 2022 playoffs.
In fact, FiveThirtyEight predicts that the Browns will finish 6-11 and give the franchise just a 7% chance of making the playoffs.
That’s not great for an organization without a first-round draft pick until 2025 that guaranteed its (currently not playing) franchise QB $230 million.
The Deshaun Watson trade could be historically bad
The Cleveland Browns traded three first-round picks to the Houston Texans for the honor of giving the embattled Deshaun Watson a fully-guaranteed $230 million contract. It is the largest fully-guaranteed NFL contract in history.
After that, the Browns converted all but $1 million of Watson’s 2022 salary into a signing bonus, ensuring he’d only lose a prorated piece of $1 million due to suspension, as opposed to a prorated portion of $46 million.
Now the 2022 season looks lost, which means $45 million is down the drain. And moving forward, the Browns might get Watson back, but they’ll have some other tough decisions to make.
Currently, Cleveland is estimated to be approximately $25 million over the salary cap next season and $20 million in 2024, per Spotrac. The team will have to do quite a bit of creative accounting and likely cut some highly-paid players just to get under.
Add to that the fact that the Deshaun Watson trade gutted the team’s subsequent two drafts, and talent and depth could become a problem quickly.
Also, as bad as Jacoby Brissett has been, there is no guarantee Watson will be all that much better at the end of this season or next. Sure, he is a three-time Pro Bowler and a perennial MVP candidate with Houston, but he now hasn’t thrown an NFL pass since January 3, 2021. That will make it 23 months and one day between NFL passes if he plays, as scheduled, on December 4, 2022, against the Texans.
After that kind of layoff, is it wild to think that he may no longer be the QB he once was? He could have fresh legs, but he could also be more injury-prone now after such a long layoff.
If he does come back and lead the Browns to the postseason in the last three years of his deal, the trade will have been worth it — at least from a financial and draft capital perspective.
However, if this season is the start of another Browns four-year mess, the Deshaun Watson trade will go down in history as the worst ever made in the NFL.
Have thoughts on this topic? Keep the conversation rolling in our comments section below.