The Browns are two years and 35 games into the five-year, $230 million contract they gave Deshaun Watson. Due to either injuries or suspension, Watson has only played in 11 of those 35 games.
(I am counting this season’s 39-38 win over the Colts as a game missed by Watson because he left with an injury early in the first quarter).
The Browns lost three of the five games, to Baltimore, Denver and Seattle, started by backup quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Later in the season, and, it should be noted, with the season on the line, the Browns won four of the six games started by Joe Flacco, who according to Spotrac was paid $2.5 million for saving the Browns’ season.
The Browns also won five of the six games started by Watson (if you choose to include the Colts game). The fly in the ointment, however, is the three losses to Denver, Seattle and Baltimore. Those losses came while Flacco was sitting at home waiting for his phone to ring — in the case of Denver, right after the phone rang but before Flacco was ready to play — and Browns officials were sitting in their offices not calling him.
The Browns evidently felt they were happy with their two backup quarterbacks, who lost a combined three games, which may have been the difference in the Browns getting a home playoff game, or two, instead of having to travel to Houston, where their defense was eviscerated by C.J. Stroud.
Overall, the Browns’ decision-makers had an excellent season in building their roster, but for whatever reason they seemed to have a blind spot for the importance of an experienced backup quarterback, a commodity no NFL team with postseason aspirations should ever begin a season without.
The Browns weren’t the only organization that paid the price for cutting that corner. Flacco had to wait until almost Thanksgiving before his phone rang. When it did, both he and the Browns were glad it did.
But now what?
Have the Browns learned a lesson, or will they go into next season betting on Watson being available for a full season for the first time in four years?
Or will the Browns take the backup quarterback position more seriously than they did at the start of this season? Ideally, of course, bringing back Flacco as not just some garden variety backup quarterback, but the best backup quarterback in the league would be the wise move.
This season’s events exposed what the unwise move would be, an oversight that potentially could have torpedoed this Browns season, had Flacco not saved it.
He just turned 39, but does he look anywhere close to being done to you? Nope. He seemed to like playing for the Browns. His teammates clearly rallied around him. There would seemingly be no way the Browns could be forced to endure another season of endless injuries, which crippled their roster this season.
Let’s also not forget that Watson hasn’t played a full season of NFL football since 2020. So the backup quarterback decision is more important in Cleveland than it is in other NFL cities.
Flacco’s instant chemistry with Browns receivers is not the norm in the NFL. That usually takes time, but Flacco seemed to be able to make time fly. In all ways imaginable Flacco was the right guy at the right time for the right team this season.
For the Browns, that, unfortunately, will come at a cost. Competitors want to play. They don’t want to wait to play. Especially if they’re 39. As long as Watson is healthy and on the Browns’ roster, he’ll be the quarterback.
The Haslams didn’t trade for him and give him that monster contract just so he could sit in the stands and watch Joe Flacco operate. Flacco, conversely, would probably rather not wait for Watson’s next injury before he can electrify the Dawg Pound once again.
Hearing the roar of the crowd undoubtedly fed Flacco’s competitive spirit, while alerting those running other NFL franchises to the fact that this old man still knows his way around a huddle.
His teammates in Cleveland seemed to rally around him, and if you’re running an NFL team that’s something you not only notice, but, especially when it comes to quarterbacks, cherish.
The best quarterbacks are leaders, and Flacco this season left no doubt that when it comes to the two most important traits for a quarterback — a big arm and the leadership gene — he still has both.
So, although a Watson/Flacco quarterback room would be the envy of many NFL franchises, for it to work in Cleveland next season would require the Browns to acknowledge the importance of having a skilled, experienced, well-compensated backup quarterback.
That’s something they didn’t have this year until it was almost too late. Flacco would probably want more than backup quarterback money to stay with the Browns.
But as we’ve already seen, he’s worth it.