The Browns Might Have Never Needed Deshaun Watson if Not for Teddy Bridgewater’s Costly Handshake

A large segment of Cleveland Browns fans are understandably hoping new quarterback Deshaun Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Houston Texans, leads them to the Super Bowl. One would think Browns owner Jimmy Haslam didn’t guarantee Watson an NFL-record $230 million to go 8-9 each season.

Then again, Haslam has a history of strange decisions when it comes to quarterbacks, and that warning only somewhat has to do with how a man experiencing homelessness convinced him to draft Johnny Manziel in 2014.

The Browns reportedly passed on drafting Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 because of his handshake

Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater faced the Cleveland Browns in 2021.
The Cleveland Browns reportedly intended to draft Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 | Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Players fall in the NFL draft for plenty of reasons beyond size, skills, and how they fared at the NFL combine. An infamous video featuring then-Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil with a bong and gas mask forced him to drop in 2016. A year earlier, LSU star offensive tackle La’el Collins went unselected in large part because police wanted to question him in connection with the murder of a pregnant ex-girlfriend.

At least neither had a weak handshake.

Now, in fairness to Teddy Bridgewater, I don’t know how his handshake is, nor do I care so long as he doesn’t break my hand. However, Haslam certainly cared, at least according to a 2017 story from ESPN’s Seth Wickersham.

Remember when the Browns traded up to select Manziel with the 22nd overall pick in 2014? Let’s just say some, including then-Browns general manager Ray Farmer, in the war room had a different quarterback in mind.

“Some of the football guys in the room wanted to wait and pick Bridgewater in the second round. But the team had soured on Bridgewater after his interview dinner and workout with team brass; something about Bridgewater’s handshake rubbed Haslam the wrong way, he told team executives.”

Seth Wickersham

Allow us to understand. A handshake, of all things, may have cost the Browns a chance at selecting one of the draft’s top quarterback prospects and someone who has repeatedly impressed with his maturity and attitude.

We’d call it unbelievable, but these are the Browns we’re talking about here.

It’s not impossible to imagine a world where the Browns wouldn’t have needed Deshaun Watson because they had Bridgewater

To be clear, we’re not suggesting Bridgewater would have definitely won a Super Bowl with the Browns. But, one has to believe the Louisville product, who the Minnesota Vikings selected 32nd overall, would have been a fine fit in Cleveland, especially considering the Browns were in playoff contention for most of the 2014 season before losing six of their final seven games after a 6-3 start.

Cleveland already had an established core featuring All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas and Pro Bowl defensive backs Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson. Bridgewater, while not a prolific passer, at least immediately showcased signs of being an excellent game-manager. For a team like the Browns, that might have been enough to sneak into the postseason in 2014 and avoid the dismal three years that were to follow.

Unless, of course, his severe knee injury from the 2016 preseason followed him into a reality where he played in Cleveland instead of Minnesota. But this isn’t intended to be a what-if or a detailed alternate universe where Bridgewater played for the Browns, the New York Jets drafted Baker Mayfield in 2018, and Tom Brady retired for 41 days instead of 40.

Even still, it’s fascinating to think about what could have happened had Haslam listened to his football people and selected Bridgewater over Manziel.

Can we definitively say Bridgewater would still be the Browns’ starting quarterback? Absolutely not, especially considering he’s been an average NFL starter at best. But it’s the mere thought that a handshake potentially convinced Haslam to pass on the All-ACC quarterback that is worth thinking about, especially after he gave up six draft picks, including three first-round choices, to acquire Watson from the Texans.

And, of course, it’s worth wondering why a handshake might have scared Haslam off, yet he signed off on trading for Watson, who still has 22 ongoing civil cases alleging sexual harassment and assault. There’s a significant reason why the Browns have a single playoff appearance since Haslam took over the team in 2012, and we’re not referring to quarterback play.

How to get help: Text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.

RELATED: Re-Grading Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns’ 2018 NFL Draft Class