Photograph: Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports
We now have a half-season sample size of Deshaun Watson in Cleveland since he returned at the mid-point of last season after an 11-game suspension due to claims of sexual misconduct.
The early returns: not pretty.
The start of the season promised plenty for the Browns. There was a world in which Watson would return to his form in 2020, when he went to his third Pro Bowl in four years and led the league in passing. Or there was a possibility that he played like a solid but not spectacular quarterback. The gulf between those two is the difference between the Browns being a certified juggernaut or being another team among the batch of AFC contenders. Either of those outcomes could have ended with a championship parade for a team that was stacked across the roster.
Related: Sean Payton finds coaching Wilson and the Broncos isn’t so easy after all
Then there were two other two roads: we’d get the 2022 version again: sometimes good, often bad. Or, the spark that typified his game in 2019 and 2020 would be gone for good, and the Browns would be left with a $200m sinkhole on their cap sheet, forcing head coach Kevin Stefanski out while scorn is poured on everyone at the Browns for cozying up to Watson in the first place.
Any guesses which way things are trending?
The Browns handed Watson a record-shattering, $230m fully guaranteed contract before he played a down in Cleveland. And this was after everyone knew about the numerous sexual misconduct allegations against him. Yes, Watson has never been criminally charged with any wrongdoing. But the NFL, which requires a lower burden of proof than the legal system, banned him for 11 games and condemned his “egregious” and “predatory behavior”.
To justify paying any quarterback – but particularly this quarterback – well above the going market rate, he would have to churn out MVP-like production year after year (in ethical terms, many would argue no prize was worth recruiting…