Opinion: Browns paid too high a price for Deshaun Watson

Whether it’s the cost of precious currency and salary, or the alienation of a multitude of fans, the Browns’ trade for Deshaun Watson carries too much risk.

CLEVELAND — As the dust begins to settle on one of the most turbulent weeks in Cleveland Browns history, it’s time to take a deep breath and consider all the ramifications of a deal for Deshaun Watson.

Yes, the Browns have a franchise quarterback. Yes, Watson is incredibly skilled and can put up video game numbers with this offense.

That’s what I’m having trouble understanding. And I’m not just talking about money.

$230 million reasons why

Let’s stop for a second and realize what the Browns did on Friday. They were part of one of the biggest hit trades in the long history of the National Football League. The numbers are staggering.

In terms of draft currency, the Browns became only the second team in NFL history to part ways with THREE first-round draft pick in a trade. The last team to pay such a high price was the Minnesota Vikings in the gigantic trade with the Dallas Cowboys for Herschel Walker in 1989. While Walker continued to have a solid but unspectacular remainder of his career, Dallas filled his roster with talent en route to three Super Bowl titles in four years.

I’m not saying the same thing will happen to the Browns. I’m just saying that giving up your first-round picks for three straight years is a huge risk. You better hope Watson can take you to the Super Bowl, because otherwise you’re robbing yourself of the chance to fill your roster with top talent.

And then, of course, there is the contract. a tweet by Adam Schefter of ESPN says it all: “Every dollar of Deshaun Watson’s new five-year, $230 million contract is guaranteed, the sources say, setting a new record for the highest guarantee given to an NFL player.”

Want to know why Deshaun Watson changed his mind and finally decided to come to Cleveland? Cold cash. The Browns have moved all their chips in the game of NFL poker betting that Watson can get them to the promised land. It’s a hell of a risk for any player to take, let alone one who comes with exceptionally heavy baggage.

Legally speaking

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play it on TV or any digital platform. But as I tried to explain in an article I wrote right after the swap, Deshaun Watson is facing some legal hurdles following allegations of sexual assault by 22 women who have first revealed last year.

Let’s be clear on a few points. From a criminal perspective, a grand jury chose not to indict Watson last week. He is innocent until proven guilty. But he faces a mountain of legal hurdles moving forward.

But those 22 women who accuse Watson of sexual misconduct during massages have filed civil lawsuits against him. Earlier this week, Watson sat for a deposition and was asked about two of the plaintiffs suing him. Plaintiffs’ attorney says he intends to question Watson about all of the cases. It’s going to take a while and could definitely be a distraction ahead of the 2022 season.

Could Watson be suspended by the NFL at some point despite being cleared of foul play? It’s entirely possible. I thought Lindsay Jones and Aaron Reiss of The Athletic laid out the case beautifully in an article written earlier this week.

The NFL’s personal conduct policy gives Commissioner Roger Goodell wide leeway to punish, even if violators do not face criminal charges.

Consider the following list of players who received notable suspensions despite having no criminal charges against them:

  • Ben Roethlisberger: Six games, reduced to four on appeal, in 2010 after allegations of sexual assault.
  • Jameis Winston: Three games in 2018, after an Uber driver accused him of sexual misconduct.
  • Ezekiel Elliott: Six games in 2017, after an accusation of domestic violence by a former girlfriend.
  • Kareem Hunt: Eight matches in 2019, after a physical altercation with a woman in a hotel was caught on CCTV.

So it’s entirely possible that despite the grand jury’s decision, Watson could still face a lengthy suspension at some point. Those away games could be the difference between the Browns making the playoffs or being home for the holidays. And when you’re all-in, you can’t afford to miss the playoffs.


I have covered Cleveland sports closely for over 20 years. I’m not sure I’ve seen an athlete divide the fans as much as Watson in Cleveland. And that was earlier this week when the Browns brass just met the three-time Pro Bowler. Now social media is exploding.

Fans are divided into two camps: those who want to win at all costs versus those who are disgusted by the allegations made against Watson by nearly two dozen women.

A friend texted me today, “What do I tell my son about Watson?”

Honestly, I do not know. Despite what the grand jury decided, Deshaun Watson was found guilty in the court of public opinion for many people across the country. And it doesn’t just go away. In this time of the #MeToo movement and renewed calls for social justice in this country, we are going to see protests, signs and a lot of negativity directed at Watson, the Browns and the NFL. Are the Haslams ready for a boycott? Can Kevin Stefanski and his coaching staff block out the noise and focus on the football?

We will find out.

And finally…

Whether or not this decision to get Watson was the product of Jimmy Haslam’s desperation to win now, this trade will ultimately decide the fate of head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry. Remember, Baker Mayfield wasn’t their man, he belonged to John Dorsey and Hue Jackson.

The pressure will rise to the heat of the volcano at Berea. Every move Stefanski makes with Watson and the offense will be watched closely, while Berry will be tasked with putting the right pieces in place around the franchise quarterback, despite limitations on salary and draft picks.

It was a decision made to go to the Super Bowl, which the Cleveland Browns never did.

And if that doesn’t work, we know what will happen next. Because you can’t fire the owners.

I want the Browns to go to the Super Bowl. I want the Browns to be an organization we can be proud of.

But I don’t want to win at the cost of alienating so many of my fellow Northeast Ohio people.

Because it’s too high a price to pay.

More from Deshaun Watson on the Browns cover:

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