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There is no Plan B at Browns QB other than Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson‘s massive contract is about as firmly entrenched in Cleveland as the Terminal Tower, so if you were heartened by his play versus Tennessee, that is just as well. Even if Watson should falter as the season continues, there is no possibility that Dorian Thompson-Robinson will swoop in and save the Browns this season or even next. The sheer magnitude of Watson’s contract locks him in to the team’s future no matter what.

The Browns front office needs Deshaun Watson to have a great year and stay healthy so that they can restructure his contract year after year after year and avoid paying bid dollars on his contract, which currently stand at $64 million per year starting in 2024. In the NFL’s system, signing bonuses are paid immediately, but cap charges are spread out over the lifetime of the contract, so current-year cap charges are discounted and big dollars can be deferred to the future. Just like your credit cards, they do have to be paid eventually.

Historically, the Browns have been obsessed with quarterbacks, believing in the “franchise quarterback” theory, that only certain quarterbacks can lead a team to a Super Bowl. These are players like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers (who recently fell off the list), Clark Kent, Thor Odinson, and other superhuman aliens. Anyone else has no shot, so the theory goes.  Therefore, $230 million guaranteed for Watson was totally justified, based on the assumption that he is one of those superhuman franchise dudes. The big dollars are currently backloaded to 2024 and beyond. The Browns would like to extend Watson at least one more time and restructure to extend the “window” another year or two. The idea is to contend for the Super Bowl now, and pass the cost to future generations, kind of like our society chooses to pass radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant down to our great grand-children.

The great news from the Titans game is that there were no unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and no facemask penalties. For the most part he conducted himself like an NFL quarterback, especially in the second half. However, there were a few times in the first half when he seemed to pass up the chance to throw to receivers who were open, preferring to scramble instead. The low point was a backwards lateral which was worthy of Johnny Manziel on his worst day. The Browns got away with it versus Tennessee, but Baltimore may make the Browns pay if something like that happens again.

If things go haywire this season, either due to injury or poor performance, it does not matter. The Browns literally cannot afford to cut Watson. If they did, according to overthecap.com, they would have to chop a staggering $155 million from the 2024 payroll, and then pay off the remaining $45 million in 2025. Remember, his money is 100% guaranteed. If Dorian Thompson-Robinson were to get a chance to play and perform brilliantly, it will not matter. Deshaun Watson has to be the first-string quarterback of this team for the duration of his contract, unless he somehow breaches the terms of his contract (i.e., by robbing a bank or something).

The Haslams clearly want to win. Their instructions are to go all-out to win with Watson, rather than play it safe and manage a .500 team. Ultimately the Browns will undergo a rebuilding cycle but for now they have cleared cap space and are making their run. The rest of the NFL has not noticed that no one is gaining yards versus the Browns. If Watson can be an average quarterback and throw the ball forwards instead of backwards, they may have a shot.

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