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Deshaun Watson was traded to the Cleveland Browns.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images (left), Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images (right)

You have to wonder if Deshaun Watson can keep this all straight.

Is he the irresponsible and morally questionable human being who endangered his high-profile, professional life by getting involved with 40 massage therapists, of whom 22 have accused him of various forms of sexual misconduct in civil court? So far, that conduct has cost him a year of his career and is still likely to result in a lengthy suspension from the NFL.

Or is he the conquering hero who will march to the shores of Lake Erie after Friday’s trade and become the greatest quarterback the Cleveland Browns have had since Otto Graham laced up those totally boss black high-top cleats as he led the Browns to seven titles in 10 years in the 1940s and 1950s. Graham was Tom Brady long before there was a Tom Brady.

If that sounds like a lot to process, it is and therein lies the issue with Watson and the people around him.

Was the Deshaun Watson Trade Actually Good For Cleveland?

Deshaun Watson warms up prior to the Texans-Bengals game in 2020.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Does Watson and his advisors really get the big picture? Moreover, does Browns management and the team’s long-suffering fans really get the irony of how the Cleveland said it wanted to have an “adult” at quarterback instead of the immature Baker Mayfield, yet replaced Mayfield with a guy who has been drastically more immature and, frankly, reckless.

Or as one NFL executive has said for more than a year about Watson, “I always step back and think, how can you possibly think it’s OK to get involved with 40 people that way? It’s so incredibly sloppy on so many levels.”

Now, don’t confuse this: The trade Cleveland made on Friday to get Watson was worth the risk. Three first-round picks, a third-rounder and two fourth-rounders in exchange for the 26-year-old Watson and a sixth-round pick from the Houston Texans is actually a pretty reasonable deal. Even with the new five-year contract Watson received (including $184 million guaranteed), the deal is a good one.

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It’s especially reasonable when compared to what Denver just gave up to get 33-year-old Russell Wilson (two firsts, two seconds, a fifth and three players for Wilson and a fourth).

“That’s a deal you do in a heartbeat if you’re Cleveland,” a long-time NFL personnel man said. “You just got a guy who you know is a stud and you could have him for 10 years … I love (Wilson) and I love Aaron (Rodgers) and I still like (outgoing Browns quarterback) Baker (Mayfield), but this was the best move any team has made this offseason. This is a move where you could win two or three titles if everything falls right.”

OK, but what about the off-field stuff?

“Yeah, (Watson) is probably going to get suspended. You could lose him for six or eight games, which probably kills a season … you still do it without hesitation. I get it. You look at it and say, ‘What was he thinking?’ But then you say, ‘Man, can he play.'”

Which gets back to the point of trying to assess Watson’s thinking. Does he realize what he risked in being so sloppy and is he focused on righting his reputation? Or does he see himself as a victim, particularly with all the enablers he has been surrounded by over the years?

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That’s one of the least-discussed issues around Watson. Numerous people who know Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, say that Mulugheta has been a major contributing factor to the sloppiness of Watson’s off-field life. Mulugheta is one of the top young NFL agents and has negotiated a series of stellar contracts for players such as Watson, Jalen Ramsey and Budda Baker.

But in the view of people who know both Watson and Mulugheta, one thing Mulugheta didn’t do was take a simple step.

“David never told Deshaun no. David is the closest thing Deshaun has to a father, but David is about David. David is about raising his profile. He’s not paying attention to what his clients really need, just what they want. Think about it. He gets Deshaun a big contract from Houston and a year later Watson wants out. Jalen Ramsey was in Jacksonville and acted out to get out of there. Now, you have (New Orleans wide receiver) Michael Thomas creating problems in New Orleans.

“There’s no plan with any of his clients, just one knee-jerk reaction after another. If things don’t go well in Cleveland right away, how is Deshaun going react? The fans there are going to love him, but the expectations and the hunger there are off the charts.”

Baker Mayfield’s Breakup With the Browns

Baker Mayfield Browns
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

If there is one saving grace, it is that Mayfield has done quite a bit to pave the road for Watson. In particular, Mayfield’s trade demand last week after Cleveland’s interest in Watson became public was another sign of Mayfield’s immaturity.

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It was only three years ago and Browns fans were parading through the streets after Mayfield led them to a victory and gave them hope that they finally had a franchise quarterback. Mayfield did commercials that embraced the famed Dawg Pound, used the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame as a backdrop and even employed fellow quarterback/Cleveland legend Bernie Kosar.

Mayfield was supposed to be the guy, but then he tucked tail and ran from adversity. That doesn’t play well in Cleveland, a city that has experienced decades of adversity. From economic upheaval to environmental disaster to the infamy of losing the Browns at one point, Clevelanders have taken more than their share of gut shots.

Throw in the fact that the Browns, who once defined football greatness, have yet to even appear in a Super Bowl and you have all the components of desperation. That desperation is accented by a heavy dose of impatience which is made worse by the scattered planning of owner Jimmy Haslam.

All of which means that Watson is entering an environment when he is likely to be treated like a king … and expected to deliver in a hurry.

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In short, there’s a lot going on for Watson and a lot for him to sort through at a critical time in his career. Watson has to alternate the confidence it takes to be a great athlete with the thoughtfulness it takes to get his life back on track and realize the idiotic (if not illegal) chances he took with his career.

MORE: Deshaun Watson Lit Up HS Football for More Than 200 Touchdowns

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Jason Cole has covered the NFL since 1992 and has been a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 2012. He is the author of seven books, including the biography of John Elway (Elway: A Relentless Life).
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