Browns’ $230M Deshaun Watson Contract Mistake Keeps on Hurting With Historic Cap Hit
The Cleveland Browns mortgaged their future last offseason by trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson. The team gave up three first-round picks (2022, 2023, 2024) and two later-round picks for the QB and gave him the biggest fully-guaranteed contract in NFL history. The ramifications of this trade are starting to hit the Browns in multiple ways, including the biggest cap hit in NFL history at $54.9 million.
The Deshaun Watson contract
The Browns went all-in last offseason to get Deshaun Watson to Cleveland. In addition to giving up a ton of draft capital, the team also rewarded the QB with the largest fully-guaranteed contract in NFL history despite Watson facing an 11-game suspension for 20-plus allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Deshaun Watson contract is a fully-guaranteed five-year, $230,000,000 contract with a $44,965,000 signing bonus and an average annual value of $46,000,000.
To put that in perspective, the next highest guarantee in the NFL right now is Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray at $189.5 million.
For the 2022 season, the Browns also suspension-proofed Watson’s deal, dropping his base salary to $402,500 and converting the rest to signing bonus so that a suspension wouldn’t cost him millions. It’s why the league added a $5 million fine to the QB’s suspension.
In 2023, the Deshaun Watson contract will pay the signal-caller $46,000,000 in base salary and $8,993,000 in prorated signing bonus. That works out to a $54,993,000 cap hit and a $219,972,000 dead cap figure. The $54.9 million cap hit is by far the biggest in NFL history at 21.79% of the team’s 2023 salary cap.
The previous largest cap hit was Ryan Tannehill’s $38.6 million in 2021, and before that, it was Jimmy Garoppolo’s $37 million in 2018.
It is worth noting that the Browns can restructure the deal now and for the next few seasons, where the Deshaun Watson cap hit is again $54.9 million. However, while that could drop the 2023 cap hit to as low as $21.3 million, it just pushes the salary cap issues down the road.
And for what?
What the Browns get for $230 million
What have the Browns got so far for their $230 million investment?
To start, they’ve earned the ire of every other NFL team. The Deshaun Watson contract reset the quarterback contract market, and the Baltimore Ravens are currently paying the price in their Lamar Jackson negotiations. The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angles Chargers are next up to be mad at the Browns as the Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert extensions come due.
On the field, the Browns earned a 4-7 record during the Watson suspension and a 3-3 record once he came back.
In those six games, the rust on Watson — who sat out nearly two years — was evident. The career 67.8% passer was 99-of-170 this season for a horrible 58.2% completion rate. Overall, he threw for 183.7 yards per game with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Maybe Watson will bounce back with a full offseason and be the Pro Bowl quarterback he was in Houston. That said, without a first-round pick for the next two years and major potential salary cap issues on the horizon because of the Deshaun Watson contract, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
And in the end, trading for Watson will likely be a $230 mistake for the Browns.