Q: From the team’s perspective, if the Deshaun Watson suspension is six or more games, would it rather just have a full year so his contract tolls, along with most of the salary cap implications? A suspension of 8-12 games feels like purgatory.
A: I don’t think anyone from the organization would give an honest answer, because the Browns’ official position would be they can make the playoffs without Watson and would love to have him for as many games as possible. But in an honest moment, I think the front office would be torn by your scenario.
I’m confident saying the organization would be grateful to welcome back Watson after a six-game suspension. I believe that was in the range of what it expected when the trade was made in March, and there’s trust Jacoby Brissett can handle the job for that long, especially when the first four games are the softest part of the schedule. The debate begins if the suspension stretches to eight games or more.
Watson’s contract tolling with a suspension of a year, as would be expected, would be of significant benefit to the Browns. General manager Andrew Berry talked about the importance of signing Watson to a five-year contract, so getting the franchise quarterback for five full seasons would be huge. As you mentioned, the salary cap would also be helped by delaying the start of the $46 million yearly salary until 2024.
I understand what you’re saying about the purgatory of a lengthy suspension that falls short of a year, but I don’t think the Browns can afford to punt on 2022 in any form. The talent on the rest of the roster is too good, and guys like Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward only have so many years in their prime. So if Watson were available for five to nine games, I think the Browns should embrace that and do everything they can to be in a position to make a playoff push when he returns.
Q: What is the point of the Josh Rosen signing? Zero chance he wins a job over Jacoby Brissett, so what’s the point?
A: The signing has a pair of purposes.
Assuming Watson is suspended at the start of the season, a third quarterback will be needed, at least on the practice squad. It’s dangerous to enter the season with only two quarterbacks who know the system. That’s even more true when one is Josh Dobbs, who’s never started a game and thrown only 17 passes in the NFL. Rosen has started 16 games and could pass Dobbs on the depth chart and serve as Brissett’s backup.
The second reason to add Rosen is to see if the Browns can salvage something from a former top-10 draft pick. I’ve heard Berry liked Rosen before the 2018 draft, so this is a chance to see if he’s still got the talent Berry saw.
Q: Curious how you’d grade the Haslam ownership up to this point. From Johnny Manziel to Watson, Hue Jackson, Freddie Kitchens and Kevin Stefanski, those awful uniforms and new stadium developments, it’s been quite a ride.
A: Not good. And that’s putting it mildly.
I don’t want to be too harsh, especially when the organization ended the playoff drought in 2020 and finally has some semblance of stability, but the bad has outweighed the good by tons.
The biggest problem with the Haslams’ ownership has been poor decision-making. The most obvious examples are in the key hires of presidents, general managers and coaches — a long, infamous list of clunkers. The bad choices led to a complete lack of continuity, which continually set back the team. Of course, the exception was sticking with Jackson for 2½ years, which made no sense.
If that weren’t enough, the Haslams have meddled in football decisions despite being new to the job and far from experts. I believe they influenced the decision to draft Manziel and to play him prematurely, which helped sabotage a promising 2014 season.
The uniforms were a disaster, but I don’t really care about them, so I won’t hold that against the Haslams. I do hold them responsible for the black eye of the Pilot Flying J scandal. They denied wrongdoing, but it was Jimmy Haslam’s company, so he can’t escape blame.
Q: Have we ever heard a satisfying answer to the “Why did they keep playing an injured Baker Mayfield?” question? I have a hard time believing Stefanski/Berry are so incredibly petty that they were proving a point. But no answer has made sense.
A: I doubt you’ll be satisfied with my explanation but I don’t think there’s any conspiracy or secret reason.
Mayfield was the starting quarterback, a former No. 1 overall pick and he and the medical staff deemed him healthy enough to keep playing. The results weren’t what anyone wanted, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of playing and succeeding. I’ve made this argument since last season and will continue to make it. Everyone points to Mayfield’s shoulder injuries when addressing his struggles — and they certainly played a part — but he had the same ailments when he went to Cincinnati and was 14-for-21 for 218 yards, two touchdowns and a 132.6 passer rating in a 41-16 win. The injuries can’t be blamed for the bad throws and dismissed when he plays well.
I agree with you on the Stefanski/Berry point. As they were trying to determine if Mayfield was a franchise quarterback, they may have wanted to see how he’d handle the adversity, but they didn’t keep playing him just to make him look bad.
Q: It is apparent now that the relationship between Stefanski and Mayfield was probably ruptured at some point last season. If you’re Berry, are you worried about that?
— John Palazzo
A: Ruptured may be a tad strong, but your point is taken. The coach/play caller-quarterback dynamic wasn’t what it needed to be, and the evidence piled up throughout the season that they weren’t on the same page. Mayfield took it public by criticizing the play calling twice.
As Stefanski’s “boss,” Berry must evaluate why the relationship dissolved. It would certainly be a worry if Berry determined Stefanski deserved the bulk of the blame for the situation. With Mayfield jettisoned and some of the things said about him on the way out, it sure looks like the organization decided he was the guilty party. That doesn’t mean Stefanski isn’t culpable, so Berry must watch to make sure the relationship between Stefanski and Watson is healthy.