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$230 million deal brings DeShaun Watson and controversy to Cleveland Browns

Jacksonville Jaguars play Houston Texans November 2020
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The Browns are looking for a franchise quarterback in DeShaun Watson.

Over the weekend, the Cleveland Browns made it official, confirming that they had reached an agreement with three-time pro-bowler Deshaun Watson to be their next quarterback. The deal comes with a lot of controversy including accusations of sexual harassment and assault against Watson from nearly two dozen women. Our sports commentator Terry Pluto has been following the story closely. He’s among those questioning the decision by the Browns.

The contract with the Browns gives Watson the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history. The five-year agreement is worth $230 million. Previously the highest guaranteed contract was the one Green Bay gave Aaron Rodgers valued at $150 million. Watson sat out the entire past season with the Houston Texans.

“The Browns would tell you he’s a top 5 quarterback. I would say the top 10. He’s above average. He’s pretty good. He’ll make them better,” Pluto said. The issue though, he says, is “they paid him as though he were the best, despite the civil charges hanging over him.”

But wait, there’s more

Pluto says it’s about more than just the money. The deal includes future draft picks including three No. 1 draft picks, which Pluto says are like gold.

“This is the first time since 1989 when three No. 1 draft picks were in a trade,” he said. Combine that with the highest contract ever for someone who sat out a year and will likely face suspension for at least part of the upcoming season and the moral issues and “it’s like he’s being rewarded for what happened.

Cleaning house

Following a so-so season filled with injuries, there’s been talk of whether current quarterback Baker Mayfield would still have a job. He essentially found out about the team’s pursuit of Watson as everyone else did, by reading about it.

“They did not keep [Mayfield] informed upfront as they should have. Baker was not exactly an angel throughout all this either. He was pouting about some other stuff but that was a problem,” Pluto said.

The Browns also announced over the weekend it had traded backup quarterback Case Keenum to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a draft pick. Pluto says other moves by the team are about freeing up money because of the NFL salary cap.

“When you spend a lot of money for one player, it takes away from being able to spend money for other players … What makes the NFL a really good league is it doesn’t matter if you’re Green Bay, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Pittsburgh or New England, you can only spend a certain amount of money on your team,” he said. Aside from that, Pluto says it really doesn’t matter how much money owner Jimmy Haslam spends on Watson.

Motivation for the Browns

Pluto points to the fact the Browns are tired of losing and of not having a true “franchise” quarterback. Dee and Jimmy Haslam “bought the team in 2012. They’ve had only one winning season," Pluto said. "I think they felt that at 26-years-old, DeShaun Watson, from a football standpoint, is coming into his own. They will tell you, and this is correct, ‘As far as we know, when Watson was leading Clemson to a national title, when Watson was in his first two years with Houston and playing very well, there were never any bad stories or charges or anything against him.’ So in other words, this is not a guy who’s had a whole long criminal history.”

Stefanski’s ticking clock

There’s been a revolving doors from both quarterbacks and head coaches for the Cleveland Browns. Does the acquisition of Watson signal the fact that the days may be numbered for coach Kevin Stefanski? Pluto says the most recent Browns coach to survive three full seasons was Romeo Pernell, who coached the Browns from 2005-2008. The closest was Hue Jackson who made it 2.5 years. Stefanski is heading into his third season, and Pluto says the pressure will be on.

“Unless things totally fall apart, he’ll survive this upcoming season. But the pressure on him to win has increased quite a bit, and it’s going to get even higher,” he said.

Andrew Meyer is the Deputy Editor of News at Ideastream Public Media.