A couple of months ago, I said the Falcons may have dodged a $230 million sized bullet by not acquiring Deshaun Watson. Now, it’s clear that they owe the Browns a debt of gratitude.
Cleveland elected to send Houston three first-round picks, a third-round pick, and two fourth-round picks in exchange for Watson. The Browns subsequently handed Watson an unprecedented fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal.
Though there’s been no acknowledgment on the part of the Falcons, the club heavily pursued Watson before the Texans traded him to the Browns. We know how close the Falcons were to landing Watson, who corresponded with free agents about joining forces in Atlanta. Moreover, a piece from The Athletic shined an even brighter light on the situation by stating, “Most within the Falcons’ building assumed Watson was theirs.”
It’s black and white. The Falcons wanted Watson, but they’re thanking their lucky stars the Browns showed up with a bigger bag. Cleveland was willing to take the public lashing in acquiring a player with that kind of off-the-field baggage because of who he was on the field.
It’s a harsh reality of the NFL, but the owners and highest executives will overlook damn near anything if you’re a good enough player. For Watson, the Browns may have a bit of buyer’s remorse.
Deshaun Watson exited this past Sunday’s contest against the Colts after taking a big hit that led to him entering concussion protocol. Watson was later cleared to play, but Kevin Stefanski elected not to put him back in the game. Whether that was more about protecting his quarterback or something else, we do not know yet, but the fact is Watson hasn’t just been bad, he’s been downright awful.
Watson’s struggles last season could have been chalked up to a number of things, but even in 2023, he’s been a bottom-five quarterback. He’s completing less than 60% of his passes, averaging less than 200 yards per contest, and only has 11 touchdowns to eight interceptions and an 82.9 passer rating. Among quarterbacks that have started at least one game, Watson ranks 30th in passer rating, behind guys like Mac Jones, Kenny Pickett, and Josh Dobbs.
Injuries are mounting, and his play leaves a lot to be desired. The Falcons may actually have a better-performing quarterback in Desmond Ridder at this point in the season. The Browns have an elite roster that needs moderate quarterback play to make noise in the playoffs; Deshaun Watson isn’t giving them that.
Cleveland has so much money tied up in the guy that there’s only one thing they can do — see it through with Watson. The Falcons, along with every other club that pursued him, owe the Browns and the Haslams a debt of gratitude.
Photographer: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire