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Browns pick Jameis Winston, not Joe Flacco, to back up Deshaun Watson

The Browns chose Jameis Winston over Joe Flacco.

Winston agreed Tuesday to sign with the Browns on a one-year deal to back up Deshaun Watson. He’ll make $4 million guaranteed and incentives can push it to $8.7 million.

Winston is technically under contract with the Saints, so the move can’t be finalized until he’s cut, which is expected to happen in the coming days.

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Winston, 30, was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft by Tampa Bay and is nine years younger than Flacco.

The decision likely won’t go over well with Browns fans, many of whom fell in love with Flacco after he signed Nov. 20 and led a four-game winning streak that secured a postseason berth. Flacco wanted to return to Cleveland, and the Browns had expressed public and private interest.

But the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year isn’t coming back, despite throwing for 1,616 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in five regular-season starts. His agent, Joe Linta, told The Chronicle-Telegram the Browns never made an offer.

Instead, the Browns turned to Winston on Monday after Jacoby Brissett agreed to a one-year deal with the Patriots that can reach $12 million. Winston’s had an up-and-down career and spent the last two years as a backup with the Saints. He didn’t start a game in 2023, throwing only 47 passes behind starter Derek Carr.

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Winston is 34-46 as a starter. He was drafted by the Buccaneers and spent five years there. He wasn’t re-signed after 2019, a season that included incredible numbers — good and bad.

He led the NFL with 626 pass attempts, 5,109 passing yards and 30 interceptions. He became the eighth player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 in a season, and the first to amass 450 yards in consecutive games. Tampa Bay went 7-9 and he completed 60.7 percent.

Winston was 5-2 as the starter for the Saints in 2021 before missing the rest of the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained on a horse collar tackle. He started the first three games in 2022, going 1-2, missed time with an injury and remained on the bench behind Andy Dalton after returning to health.

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For his career, he’s completed 61.2 percent for 22,104 yards, 141 touchdowns, 99 interceptions and an 87.0 passer rating. In 2013 he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and lead his team (Florida State) to the national championship.

Winston is a big guy (6-foot-4, 231 pounds) with a strong right arm and power as a runner, similar traits to Cam Newton and Josh Allen, whom new coordinator Ken Dorsey coached in Carolina and Buffalo, respectively. The Browns believe Winston is a good fit for the offense and quarterback room that includes Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick in 2023.

Winston still aspires to start but put that aside to join Watson and the Browns.

“Yes, I still envision myself as a starter, however the Lord has also called me to lead by impacting and increasing the men who are around me,” Winston told CBS’ Josina Anderson. “Having the opportunity to work with Deshaun and help him be the best he can possibly be is my main mission. Now, if Deshaun has to heal up for whatever reason, and I have to take a few games off of him, I’m going to be ready to do that.

“But I have to fulfill God’s purpose first before my own heart’s desire. Because ultimately I desire to win some Super Bowls, and this roster that Cleveland got looks like they can do it.”

Winston served a three-game suspension to start the 2018 season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He had been accused of groping an Uber driver in March 2016 and an NFL investigation determined Winston violated the conduct policy by “touching the driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.”

Winston had previously called the accusation “false” but apologized in a statement after the suspension.

I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in,” he wrote. “It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize. In the past 2 1/2 years my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life. I know I have to hold myself to a higher standard on and off the field.”

In 2016 he settled a federal lawsuit accusing him of sexual battery of a fellow Florida State student in 2012. Winston had called the encounter consensual, and no criminal charges were filed.

Watson was suspended for the first 11 games of 2022 following more than two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. The trade for him in March 2022 alienated a segment of the Browns fan base.

The importance of the backup quarterback was obvious last year across the league and particularly in Cleveland. The Browns won games with a franchise-record four starting quarterbacks.

That’s the backdrop for Winston’s addition, along with Watson coming off season-ending shoulder surgery in November to repair a broken socket bone. He’s expected to be ready to participate in the offseason program and completely recovered for the season.

Flacco was signed after Watson was lost for the season, then went on a magical ride that captivated Northeast Ohio. Flacco, a former first-round pick and Super Bowl MVP, had gone unsigned throughout the offseason and season until the Browns called.

He showed little rust, throwing for 300 yards in all four wins. His resume and personality gave confidence to the locker room it could finish the run to the playoffs.

Flacco was a surprise winner of The Associated Press’ Comeback Player of the Year, beating out Buffalo’s Damar Hamlin, whose heart had stopped on the field during a game in 2022.

Besides age, the biggest knock on Flacco was the interceptions. In addition to the eight in five regular-season games, he threw a pair of pick-sixes in the wild card loss to the Texans.

In his career, Flacco has gone 103-82 as a starter with 245 touchdowns, 155 interceptions and a 2.4 interception percentage.

Winston’s career interception percentage is 3.4, but he has staunch supporters.

“This man is the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Saints tight end Jimmy Graham tweeted after the season. “Loves this city, this game and embodies everything you can ask for in a leader.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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