Deshaun Watson on track to start for Browns in 2024 means no room for Joe Flacco

Jan. 14—Thanks for the memories, Joe!

Head coach Kevin Stefanski during his Jan. 14 wrap-up news conference made it crystal clear that Deshaun Watson will be the Browns' starting quarterback in 2024.

"Correct," Stefanski said when asked whether Watson is the starter heading into the offseason.

Watson missed three games and most of a fourth with a right rotator cuff injury early in the season. He returned to start against the Cardinals on Nov. 5, a game the Browns won 27-0, and a week later suffered a fractured shoulder in the first half of a game with the Ravens in Baltimore. Remarkably, he completed 14 of 14 passes in the second half and brought the Browns back from a 31-17 fourth-quarter deficit to win the game.

"That second half versus Baltimore is something that I don't know how many people on Earth can do, what he did with the injuries that he had in that second half, so very excited for him," Stefanski said. "He's excited. I know he wants to get back healthy and he's well on his way to doing that.

"He's in great hands with Dr. (Neal) ElAttrache out there (in Los Angeles) in his rehab, he's doing great. He's on schedule, if not ahead of schedule, so I'm confident he'll be ready to roll this spring. He's feeling great. He's right on track, so I know he'll be ready probably sooner than most just because of how hard he works."

Joe Flacco tried out for the Browns five days after Watson was injured and three days after that, on Nov 20, he was to the practice squad. He started against the Rams on Dec. 3, lost that game, and then won four straight to propel the Browns into the playoffs.

Flacco was rested in the season finale against the Bengals. He threw two pick-sixes in the third quarter of the playoff loss. He totaled 14 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in six games, including the playoffs.

Is there enough room on the roster next year for Watson and Flacco? Probably not.

Flacco will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Browns general manager Andrew Berry signed him to a contract that would expire when the Browns' season ended, anticipating Watson would be ready for 2024. Flacco, who turns 39 on Jan. 16, showed enough to draw interest from a team looking for a mentor for a young quarterback, if not a starter. Watson doesn't need a mentor.

"I'd leave all those things up to, obviously, Andrew this offseason," Stefanski said. "I will say this about Joe. Joe was awesome for this football team. He did a great job, battled like crazy. I know he enjoyed it.

"We obviously wish yesterday's outcome was different, but I have a ton of respect for Joe and what he was able to do."