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Commentary: Two years on, Deshaun Watson deal hasn’t busted any blocks

Two years and three days ago the Browns mortgaged the farm to acquire the quarterback who would put an end to the longest, most fruitless search in the history of fruitless searches.

On Wednesday the Browns announced the signing of two more quarterbacks since the most recent Great Fruitless Search began all the way back on March 18, 2022.

The harder the Browns try to settle their quarterback quandary, the more unsettled it becomes. They are now entering Year 3 of Deshaun Watson’s five-year contract. To celebrate the occasion the Browns on Wednesday announced the signing of quarterbacks Nos. 7 and 8 since they thought they had answered their quarterback quagmire by trading for Watson.

The lucky newcomers are Jameis Winston and Tyler Huntley, who will join revered alumni Jacoby Brissett, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, P.J. Walker, Joe Flacco and Jeff Driskel, all of whom have started games since the Browns thought the Great Fruitless Search was over when they traded for Watson.

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But it wasn’t, and it isn’t.

The whole purpose of trading for Watson was so he could come to Cleveland and do his Watson thing.

Instead, last year DTR played in eight games and started three, while Walker played in six games and started two.

Watson started six games, period.

Watson did not play more games than he did because of injuries. Nobody can blame a player for missing games due to injuries. But on the other hand, injuries are part of the game. Some players get hurt a lot, some hardly get hurt at all.

Watson hardly got hurt at all in Houston. In his last three years with the Texans, from 2018 through 2020, Watson only missed one game, and that was to rest before the playoffs. In his first two years with the Browns, he has missed 23 games, including the playoff loss in Houston.

Eleven of those missed games were the result of being suspended by the NFL, and 12 were due to injury. When they decided to mortgage the farm by trading for Watson, Browns officials knew what they were getting into. They knew that there would likely be a suspension coming for Watson in the 2022 season. What they did not know was how long the suspension would be.

What the Browns also didn’t know when they made the trade for Watson was that he would miss 12 games in the 2023 season. Not because of suspension, but due to injury.

Is there an argument to be made that Browns officials knew, at the very least, that Watson, in his first year with Cleveland, would likely miss considerable time due to the expected suspension from the NFL?

Absolutely.

But this is what can happen when billionaire owners get desperate.

It’s what happened in 2022 when Watson originally told the Browns that he was eliminating them from the group of teams he was considering waiving his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade.

It is also, apparently, why Jimmy Haslam personally called Watson and either said “name your price” or talked Watson into reconsidering Cleveland’s offer.

However it happened, it happened. Watson said “I’ll take it” to Haslam’s presumed revised offer, and two years later the Browns are entering Year 3 of that history-making five-year, $230 million contract that — much to the ire of Haslam’s fellow owners, one supposes — changed the market for franchise quarterbacks.

What it did not do is what it did: It did not slingshot the Browns into an AFC powerhouse. At least not yet. That sometimes happens with blockbuster trades. None of them comes with guarantees.

With this blockbuster, the jury is still out, because Watson is too, mainly because he’s sat out more games than he’s played since the Browns’ billionaire owners got desperate. With three years left on his contract, Watson still has time to make Browns fans forget these disastrous first two train wrecks (for him, not necessarily for the team).

Meanwhile, the lesson to be learned is that you roll the dice on blockbuster trades at your own risk. Just because you make a headline-grabbing trade does not make it a guaranteed trip to glory days.

For the Browns, the first two Watson Years have been well below what was expected when the trade was made. The suspension was the suspension. But the poor play still lingers. In his two years with the Browns he has given his employers one “that’s who we traded for” moment: the second half of the second Ravens game last year.

That is not enough.

In the meantime, for two years Browns officials have had to scramble to survive a quarterback room that, since the Watson trade, has — except for the brief but glorious Joe Flacco Era — regressed rather than progressed.

The Watson trade was supposed to be a huge difference-maker for the Browns. Counting the two newest additions, since the Watson trade the Browns have cycled through seven other quarterbacks.

I don’t know about you but I miss Jeff Driskel.

Jim Ingraham is a sports columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette. Contact him at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter

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