A Cleveland Browns podcast

Is Deshaun Watson really happy in Cleveland?

Is Deshaun Watson thrilled to be in Cleveland, the one town that loves him, or is he feeling the same negativity that he felt in Houston that caused him to leave the team? The presumption is that Deshaun Watson is thrilled to be in Cleveland where the ownership and front office have supported him through a humiliating scandal involving alleged sexual misconduct with massage therapists. In coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex van Pelt he has young innovative strategists who are crafting an offense tailor made to his skills. The fans of Cleveland are starving for a true Franchise Quarterback, who they have not had since the days of Bernie Kosar. Surely Watson is grateful for the support he has received from the team and from the quarterback-worshipping fan base. Right? Under the circumstances, there could not be a better situation for him, so he has to be happy in Cleveland, doesn’t he?

Maybe not. Let’s think about what caused his unhappiness in Houston. Recall that he had an MVP-caliber season in Houston in 2020, completing 70.2% of his passes for a mind-boggling
4,823 yards, tossing 33 TDs versus only seven INTs and a passer rating of 112.4. Nevertheless he was ticked off at the coaching staff and the direction of the 4-12 team. They ran an offense designed by supposedly dumb coach Bill O’Brien, who actually had decent success offensively. His offenses featured a lot of Run-Pass-Options, followed by a (sort of) triple threat option by Watson, in which he could keep the ball and run, throw a screen pass or throw the ball downfield. It worked for 4800 yards, although Watson did get banged up a lot, taking 49 sacks while also carrying the ball 90 times as the second leading ball carrier in his last year with the team. Maybe he was not too thrilled with that. In any case, he felt strongly that ownership and the front office should consult with the star quarterback in selecting the next head coach. He probably had a valid point. Maximizing the production of the quarterback while not getting him killed should have been an important consideration.

In any case, Watson was angry enough that he decided to actually not play the 2021 season. He demanded a trade, seeking a new team with a receptive coaching staff and front office, preferably a southern team a dome and artificial turf, which he felt would have given him a competitive advantage because of his speed and quickness. We have to admit that Cleveland is not a southern team and does not have artificial turf or a dome. If Deshaun was frustrated with the Bill O’Brien offense, he might not be so thrilled with Stefanski’s run-first, tight-end heavy offense, either. Watson had in mind that he was going to lead the NFL in passing yards by launching bombs in a Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan style offense, and that is just not what he was getting into. Moreover, the Browns’ terrible pass blocking in the early going (16 sacks in four games) does not bode well for the long-term health of the quarterback.

In short, if he was so unhappy that he no longer wanted to play in nice, warm Houston getting $40 million dollars a year, what has changed for him in Cleveland? He has a five year deal instead of a four year deal, and he is getting $46 million instead of $40 million. After the sex scandal, he probably lost that difference in legal fees and endorsement opportunities. So what is going to make the difference to cause him to be thrilled about playing? Is it the run-first Stefanski offense that is so much better than the O’Brien offense that got him 4800 yards? Look at a map! Cleveland, north, cold! Houston, south, warm! Cleveland Browns Stadium, no dome, natural turf! NRG Stadium dome, synthetic turf! Texans, Shanahan offense! Browns, Stefanski offense! So how is Watson achieving his goals in Cleveland? It does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that Watson is finding it hard to be motivated to play for the Browns. So how did the Browns conclude that a quarterback who refused to honor his contract was a high character individual, and how did they conclude that it would not happen again?

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Podcast Transcript

Is it the shoulder? Or something else?
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after running on a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter of the NFL Week 1 game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium in downtown Cleveland on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. The Browns dealt the Bengals a 24-3 loss to begin the season.

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