As the Deshaun Watson situation reaches new levels of terribleness and ridiculousness, Browns fans have to wonder:
Is he worth all this?
Would it have been better just to keep Baker Mayfield?
Watson did not quarterback a single game for the Houston Texans last year. He was, essentially, suspended by the team after sexual harassment allegations came to light.
We will probably never know the extent of Watson’s predation. What we do know is he saw at least 66 female massage therapists in a span of about 18 months, from 2019 into 2021, and at one point he faced 24 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct.
Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson, who has, generally speaking, denied any wrongdoing. He has settled all but one of the suits against him.
The Browns traded six draft picks, including three first-rounders, to acquire Watson in March. They signed him to a five-year, $230-million, fully guaranteed contract, the richest in NFL history.
The contract is backloaded because both parties understood that Watson faced further suspension time. Watson wanted to make sure he got paid.
Then came commissioner Roger Goodell’s public-relations spectacle, which is the NFL’s version of justice.
Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson was appointed to be the disciplinary officer. Earlier this month, she concluded that Watson’s “pattern of conduct was more egregious than any before viewed by the NFL.” She ruled, however, that a year-long suspension would not be in line with punishments the league has handed out in the past. She gave Watson six games.
Six games, incidentally, is what former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got for violating the league’s personal conduct code – he was accused of rape, but not charged – in 2010. The suspension was later reduced, by Goodell, to four games. (And it wasn't the last time Roethlisberger faced such accusations.)
Yet, when Goodell got the news of Watson's suspension, he was shocked, shocked, SHOCKED that it was only six games. Goodell, who echoed Robinson in describing Watson as “predatory,” fumed with righteous indignation over the punishment handed down by his hand-picked arbitrator.
Watson sort of shrugged and said, “I’ll take eight games and a $5 million fine.”
What a guy.
Goodell wants a yearlong suspension. He hand-picked another disciplinary officer, former federal prosecutor Peter Harvey, to listen to all the same evidence and come to a different conclusion.
As of Friday afternoon, there was speculation a ruling from Harvey was imminent.
Isn’t this all just a PR stunt? That’s what it looks like.
Goodell has served as judge and jury on countless disciplinary cases. This time, he’s using proxies. With Robinson, Goodell hired a judge to weigh the facts and take precedent into account only to be shocked, shocked, SHOCKED at her ruling.
Goodell, who created the precedents, wants to look like he’s a champion for justice now. Forget everything he has ever done before, in other words. He is a man with a sound moral compass.
If that was true, Watson would never have been allowed to sign with the Browns. The Browns, by the way, were ready for all of this. They had to be. It’s all there in the structure of Watson’s contract.
Is Watson worth it?
Is he worth $230 million guaranteed, with “a pattern of conduct that is more egregious than any before viewed by the NFL?” Is he worth it to an organization that was a joke for 20 years, then started to head in the right direction, and now looks like a joke again?
Is he worth it? He didn’t play last season. Goodell doesn’t want him to play this season. Or, maybe he does. It’s hard to tell with him.
Watson twice led a largely terrible Texans team to the playoffs. He is elusive in the pocket and when he takes off to run. He has a strong and accurate arm.
Watson also might be the third-best quarterback in the AFC North, behind Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. (If you say, “Come on, Watson is better than Jackson, I would concede the point with the proviso, “Jackson doesn’t cost as much, he has won a division title and he’ll actually be on the field this season.”)
It’s debatable whether Watson is one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league. It’s not debatable that Watson is not in the highest echelon in the AFC. That conversation begins with Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Burrow.
Watson is, arguably, in the next echelon of AFC QBs, with Denver’s Russell Wilson, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Hebert and Jackson.
Watson has fewer playoff starts than any of the players mentioned above, with the exception of Hebert.
Is Watson the answer in Cleveland?
Is he going to put the Browns on his back and lead his team to a conference title, as Mahomes, Allen, Burrow and Wilson have done? Is Watson going to lead the Browns to a Super Bowl title, as Mahomes and Wilson have done?
Is he going to beat all these guys?
Maybe, one of these years, we’ll find out.
Right now, what could have been the alternative – maintaining a sense of moral character within the franchise and hanging on to six draft picks (including three first-rounders) and losing with Mayfield – feels way better.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Watson ordeal continues to savage the NFL, Cleveland Browns, fans