NFL Offseason – In what Adam Schefter correctly has called “a stunning change of events,” Deshaun Watson has decided he wants to play for the Cleveland Browns and not his other suitors, the Atlanta Falcons or the New Orleans Saints. We had been told that the Browns were out of the running, but Watson has apparently changed his mind. The Browns will be sending Houston three first-round picks (2022-2024), a third-round pick (2023), and a fourth-round pick (2024) for Watson and a fifth-round pick (2024). Cleveland is also handing Watson a new contract, fully guaranteed for five years and $230 million.
There are two angles to this move, on the field and off the field. On the field, this move seems like a no-brainer. Watson was one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he last played in 2020, leading the league in both total passing yardage and yards per attempt. That Houston team went only 4-12 but Watson led the Texans to the playoffs in the two years before that. Watson ranked fifth in both passing DVOA and passing DYAR in 2020. He lost DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and got better. Watson had ranked 13th in passing DYAR in 2019 and 10th in 2018. Contrast that to Baker Mayfield, who ranked 25th, 16th, and 23rd in passing DYAR over the last three seasons despite playing in a friendly offensive scheme that was supposedly built around his strengths. Watson improves the Browns at the most important position in football, no question. The high cost of trading for him, not to mention that exhorbitant contract the Browns are giving him — these are the costs of getting a top quarterback in the NFL. It’s the one position where it makes sense to trade away multiple first-round picks to improve significantly.
Deshaun Watson’s early KUBIAK projections @fboutsiders
530-4236-28.9-9.3 and 92-475-3.8 (4th QB)
Watson selected the best football situation in Cleveland, and assuming he plays to his pre-2021 standard and isn’t suspended, he should reassert himself as a top 5 fantasy QB.
— Scott Spratt (@Scott_Spratt) March 18, 2022
There’s now going to be a great race in the AFC North between the defending AFC champion Bengals, the new-look Browns, and the healthier Baltimore Ravens. Watson’s decision to stay in the AFC just continues the dominance of the AFC over the NFC in this year’s big offseason moves. And some team (Indianapolis?) is going to get a chance to try to rehabilitate Baker Mayfield and find the quarterback who looked really good in the second half of his rookie year.
There’s also the off the field angle. I’ll tread lightly here. There are much better reporters than me who have devoted their last few months to following Deshaun Watson’s legal issues; Jenny Vrentas, for one. Twenty-two women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct ranging from exposing himself to sexual assault. The fact that a grand jury in Texas could not find enough evidence to indict on any specific case does not make Watson innocent. Watson is still facing civil suits and the possibility of a suspension from the league. It’s really hard to disbelieve 22 women all making similar accusations. Rooting for Deshaun Watson right now feels gross. I would have to imagine that a lot of Cleveland Browns fans have very mixed feelings about this deal. The Browns just improved significantly, but what’s the moral cost? There are a lot of us in the analytics world who have been rooting for Cleveland as an analytics-forward franchise waving the flag for our movement. I don’t think we’ll be rooting for Cleveland any more.