Deshaun Watson's season is over, as the quarterback is set to undergo surgery to repair his injured throwing shoulder. But, the ramifications for the Cleveland Browns and the NFL could just be beginning.
Watson's 2023 campaign comes to a close with the 28-year-old appearing in just six games while completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,115 yards with seven touchdowns to four interceptions, in the second-year of a five-year fully guaranteed contract.
Even before Watson's season-ending injury, teams were reluctant to come close to matching the $230 million fully-guaranteed deal that the Browns gave the star quarterback, despite being embroiled in credible sexual misconduct allegations from over two dozen women.
"I think that ship sailed the moment the Browns signed Watson to that contract," a high profile agent, who represents several starting quarterbacks across the league, told FanBuzz, on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about a player he doesn't represent.
After returning from an 11-game suspension in 2022, Watson and the Browns have struggled to find any sort of week-to-week consistency, with the Browns posting an 8-4 record in games Watson started. Since arriving in Cleveland, Watson has completed just 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,217 yards with 14 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and he has been sacked 37 times.
Watson underwent an MRI Monday that revealed a high ankle sprain, suffered during Sunday's Browns victory over the Baltimore Ravens, as well as a fractured glenoid in his right shoulder.
The 6-3 Browns had been building some momentum towards a potential playoff run, but now those expectations have to be tempered in Watson's absence.
Cleveland hasn't exactly gotten its money worth from the Watson deal, that was made in hopes of ending a decades' long revolving door at the most important position in sports.
Just don't expect many teams to follow the Browns' lead, especially after how this particular contract has worked out.
"When we were doing negotiations with a new ownership group," the agent said. "The first words out of their mouth were 'we are not doing a fully-guaranteed contract.' Now, ask yourself, why would these super-rich, new owners say that? The owners got together and said 'never again.'"
Even when the New York Jets reworked Aaron Rodgers contract, after acquiring him in a trade with the Green Bay Packers this spring, only $75 million was fully guaranteed on the new three-year pact worth $112.5 million.
"I don't think the fully guaranteed contracts were favorable even before this injury," former NFL Executive of The Year Randy Mueller, told FanBuzz. "So, I think that was always going to be a one-off deal. But, this injury seems problematic on top of that. His right throwing shoulder, yikes. This deal becomes even more problematic as the cap numbers go up in the final years of this deal. Deshaun's deal is $63 million against the cap in 2024, 2025, and 2026."
With Watson sidelined, and staring into a future where a quarterback who has played a full season just once since 2019 accounting for 24 percent of the team's salary cap next season, not to mention attempting to make a playoff push in the hyper-competitive AFC North without their starter.
P.J. Walker has passed for 618 yards with one touchdown but five interceptions in his four starts.
Walker and the Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in Cleveland, and now face a remaining slate of opponents who boast a .493 winning percentage, as the 19th-toughest finishing stretch.
At this point, Watson and the Browns could prove to be a cautionary tale for the rest of the NFL, for more reasons than one.
"I think the biggest story here," Mueller explains. "Is that you need to commit legitimate dollars, and legitimate planning, towards a backup quarterback."
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