The Deshaun Watson Era In Cleveland Has Begun; Sort Of
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Deshaun Watson has made it through his first official week as Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. The team held its OTA this week, and the biggest difference between this year’s OTA and last year’s is that last year the team’s quarterback did not have a $230 million contract, nor 22 civil suits alleging sexual misconduct pending against him.

Other than that. . .

The Browns are like the noisy neighbors in a duplex. There’s always something going on over there, but you’re not always sure what.

For example, how many other NFL teams’ starting quarterback from last year is still on the team’s roster, but did not show up for the team’s OTA?

But enough about Baker Mayfield, which is essentially what Browns officials declared when they not only traded for Watson, and all the baggage that accompanies him, but then signed him to a five-year $230 million contract, the most guaranteed money for any contract in NFL history.

Following the acquisition of Watson, Mayfield, who is due nearly $19 million in the final year of his contract, was expected to be traded sooner rather than later. But “sooner” came and went, “later” is reaching for its car keys, and Mayfield has apparently become an expensive vase in the storefront window that no shoppers want.

Meanwhile, it’s business as unusual for the Browns and their pricey new quarterback. Watson, wearing his familiar uniform number 4, but in the unfamiliar uniform of the Cleveland Browns, was the star of the show during OTA week. But he was a silent star.

Watson hasn’t spoken to the media since his introductory press conference on March 25. However, that didn’t prevent, during OTA week, photographers from shooting rolls of video of him, reporters writing reams of stories about him, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, and other Browns players being asked numerous questions about him, and polarized Browns fans continuing the for-and-against dialogue regarding the team’s decision to trade for Watson, and his baggage, in the first place.

The latter debate doesn’t figure to diminish anytime soon, a realty Browns officials, Browns coaches, and Browns players have no choice but to accept, and deal with for as long as this controversy hovers over the organization.

For his part, Watson has tried to accelerate his assimilation into the fabric of the team. His most dramatic gesture came prior to the start of OTA week when he took the offense to the Bahamas for workouts and team bonding sessions.

During OTA week, Watson made news by gifting Browns linebacker Anthony Walker, who relinquished uniform No. 4 to Watson. Walker asked for nothing in return, but Watson interrupted a session between Walker and reporters to give Walker a Rolex box that presumably contained a watch.

A far more serious moment during OTA week occurred when HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” ran a segment in which two of the 22 women who have filed civil suits against Watson for sexual misconduct during massage sessions gave their side of the story.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during the week that the league is nearing the end of its investigation. The next step would then be how Goodell rules on the matter.

However Goodell rules, the Browns are willing to live with his decision. The team made that clear by trading for Watson, whom they hope will settle their decades-long quarterback situation once and for all.

With Watson, the Browns are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Without him, they are not. Cleveland signed free agent quarterback Jacoby Brissett to serve as the backup for Watson.

Then there is the uncertain status of Mayfield. His continued presence on the roster of a team that no longer wants him continues to be an extremely awkward situation for both parties. The Browns seemingly have only two options. One would be to find a trade partner in need of a quarterback. The other would be to release Mayfield, in which case the team would still be on the hook for Mayfield’s 2022 salary of nearly $19 million.

A significant injury to a quarterback on another team might generate some interest in Mayfield. But that could take time. Quarterbacks rarely get injured in June. But it’s clearly in the best interests of both parties that the situation be resolved as soon as possible.

Watson, meanwhile, faces a season unlike any he’s had in his career. He still has to wade through all the civil suits, and there’s no telling how long that could take. It seems more likely than not that Goodell will hand down some sort of punishment. It could be a suspension for multiple games, which would hamper Watson’s ability to make a quick and smooth transition in becoming the Browns’ new quarterback.

So, it’s potentially going to be a bumpy ride for the Browns initially.

But few teams have more experience with bumpy rides than the Browns.

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