Deshaun Watson’s career with the Cleveland Browns doesn’t begin until next season

The irony of it all is that in 2022, after trading six draft picks, including three first-rounders, to the Houston Texans in exchange for Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns ended where they most likely would have ended up even if they hadn’t made it act.

This place was the last place.

With a 7-10 record, the Browns finished last in their division for the 14th roundth times in the last 20 years.

The expensive blockbuster trade for Watson, which as of today means Cleveland won’t pick in the first round of the NFL Draft until 2025, had a negligible impact on the Browns’ 2022 season.

After serving his 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s Player Conduct Policy, Watson, who is playing in NFL games for the first time in nearly two years, was understandably rusty when he returned to play the final six games of the Browns to begin.

Cleveland split those six games, beating Houston, Baltimore and Washington and losing to the Bengals, Saints and Steelers. Watson completed 58% of his passes, threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 79.1.

Statistically it was a mediocre if not unexpected result that could be largely attributed to Watson’s prolonged absence from the game. Injury aside, there’s no reason to believe 27-year-old Watson won’t return to his status as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks in 2023.

The Browns can only hope that happens from now on.

Because as a practical matter, at best, the Browns will get four years of usable service from Watson in exchange for a five-year, $230 million contract and the loss of six draft picks, including three first-rounders.

Had Watson’s suspension not been so lengthy, it’s conceivable that he would have played enough games this year to make a difference in the Browns’ quest to reach the postseason. But the last six games at the end of an already disappointing season were far from enough. There’s no one to blame for that on Watson and the Browns but him and them. He, for putting himself in this position, and she, for doing the same.

In a way, the result suited both of them.

Had the Browns not traded for Watson, they would have had to acquire a quarterback following Baker Mayfield’s split. We will never know who that could have been and what he could have produced.

But the Browns did what they did, and when it comes to team building in any sport, there are no shortcuts. Even apparent ones are associated with risks. The Browns found out about it in the “Waiting for Deshaun” section of their schedule this year.

The designated stand-in for Watson was professional backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who had something of a career year, or at least two-thirds of a year, under his belt. In his 11 starts, Brissett completed 64% of his passes, with 12 touchdown passes, two touchdown rushes, six interceptions and an 88.9 passer rating.

But that wasn’t enough. The Browns were 4-7 with Brissett behind the wheel. Obviously, the team was struggling in other areas, mainly in defence, which put even more pressure on offense to carry the load.

The burden was carried, but not far enough.

When Watson returned in Houston on Dec. 4 and faced his former team for the first time — you can’t make that up — Brissett returned to his backup role, and the Browns played hopscotch in the last six games of the season : a win, a loss, a win, a loss, a win and a loss.

It felt like a lost season, and it was.

Take it from the Browns. You know a little bit about lost seasons.

That one was lost for a number of reasons, perhaps the biggest of which was that it squandered another year of offense for the Browns, who, unlike defense, are laden with playmakers and street-grading linemen who have their career clocks ticking.

For example, running back Nick Chubb, who rushed for 6,341 yards and had 52 touchdowns in his five years with the Browns, but had zero touchdowns in his postseason career.

With Watson having to sit out his suspension for the first 11 games of 2022, the Browns’ season was effectively on hold. Brissett did his best. But backups are backups for a reason, and the longer Brissett played, the more he looked like a backup.

It wasn’t until just before the start of the season that the Browns learned how long Watson would be suspended. They prepared for this long beforehand. Cleveland joined Watson on March 18. They signed Brissett as a free agent seven days later.

Everyone knew that the key to the Browns’ season would be the length of Watson’s suspension. Four, five or six games might have been feasible. It wasn’t eleven.

It was eleven.

That number practically guaranteed what happened, and what happened wasn’t much. A 7-10 record and no playoffs, which the Browns could have done without Watson.

Really wait until next year.

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