In one of the most disgraceful moves in recent NFL history, the Cleveland Browns traded three first-round picks, two fourth-round picks and a third-round pick in exchange for former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Not only did they give up a valuable load of draft picks for Watson, but they awarded a man accused of 22 counts of sexual misconduct with a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract. Not one, not two, but 22. Instead of letting Watson face accountability, the Browns rewarded him with the then-biggest contract in NFL history. Justice, who?
The good news is the Browns have been rewarded for such a move with sweet Karma. For what Cleveland gave up to trade for perhaps the most controversial figure in the NFL, Watson has been straight abysmal. The Browns passer has played just four games this season, completing 61.7% of his passes for 683 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt.
With this in mind, let’s dive deeper into how this trade went wrong for the Browns, and how Houston has capitalized.
Cleveland Browns: F
From a moral standpoint, the Browns were always doomed. This trade sucked. Not only did the Browns knowledgeably trade for Watson, but they harmed many others in the process. What man, woman, child or victim in a similar situation would ever want to speak up knowing that not only did someone like Watson get away with few repercussions, but rewarded with tons of money.
The NFL has long struggled with issues related to domestic violence and assault, and this did not help. With both Watson and running back Kareem Hunt on the roster, the Browns’ message seems to say they don’t care.
The Browns also went wrong with this move from an off-the-field standpoint. When teams pick a franchise quarterback, they also choose a representative of their city and team. Quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow are primarily popular for their play on the field, but also because of what they do for their community. Each of those quarterbacks have foundations helping youth in their community and regularly attend events in their cities.
Instead of picking a quarterback with high character, the Browns went the complete opposite direction, turning many loyal fans away in the process. While a community figure may not sound that important for an NFL franchise’s priorities compared to winning, popularity of players increases jersey sales, ticket sales and sponsorships for a franchise. With Watson, these diminish, and hurts the reputation of the Browns organization as a whole.
On the field, the trade is bad as well. Despite the Browns having a tremendous defense and game-wreckers in Myles Garrett, Dalvin Tomlinson, Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II among others, their offense continues to hold them back. Their offense ranks second-last in passing, the area where Watson was supposed to most improve Cleveland. Not only this, but now Watson is facing questions on if he even wants to play for Cleveland amidst his injury.
Even before seeing hindsight play out, the move was not football smart in the slightest. Those who supported the trade for Watson saw the move as a game-changer for the Browns, turning them into contenders behind a top passer. But that was never a sure thing. Giving a player who hasn’t played in over a year and is most likely going to be suspended for a substantial period a NFL-record contract would not be smart, no matter who the player was. In fact, it’s highly laughable.
On top of missing time, Watson was not particularly effective the last time he was a starter. While playing all 16 games in 2020 and putting in tremendous passing stats, the Texans were just 4-12. A large part of this was the Texans lacking talent and the losing doesn’t solely fall on his shoulders, but a quarterback worth an NFL-record fully guaranteed contract is certainly expected to win more than four games.
Overall the Browns failed again and will have to figure out how to move forward after a blunder far worse than many of their other quarterback disasters.
Houston Texans: B
Credit to the Houston Texans, who benched Watson for a season after the allegations came to light. Even with the challenging idea of giving up on someone who was widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Houston did it without question.
Even if they picked a straight-up bust with the picks they acquired, the Texans are almost guaranteed a B for getting rid of Watson and doing the right thing as an organization. And it paid off for Houston. Thanks to giving up Watson, they were in position to draft C.J. Stroud, who is the current favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. In his rookie season, Stroud currently ranks fourth in the NFL in passing yards per game and has thrown just one interception. It’s still early in his career, but he is one of the most promising young quarterbacks.
From the picks, the Texans were able to move up with the Arizona Cardinals to take Will Anderson Jr. No. 3 overall while still having a first-round pick in next year’s draft. Anderson Jr. was one of the most sought-after prospects in the draft and has had a nice rookie season so far. Outside of Anderson Jr, the Texans look like they have hits in offensive guard Kenyon Green and wide receiver Tank Dell.
How these players’ careers turn out will largely determine the final grade for the Texans’ side in this trade, but for now, Houston earns a respectable “B.”