The vilification of the Cleveland Browns
All morality aside, the league is angry with the Browns for opening the flood gates. But the reality is if it wasn’t the Browns it was going to be someone else. The NFL is a have and have not league. Either you have a franchise quarterback, or you are desperately searching for one.
Whether or not you agree with Watson being their choice is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is the Browns saw an opportunity to secure the services of a true franchise quarterback who is just entering their prime athletic years and moved heaven and Earth to make it happen. Quarterback is inarguably the most pivotal position in all of professional sports, and in this day and age it is virtually impossible to win a Superbowl without one.
Did Cleveland create a competitive advantage by having the liquid assets to put into escrow to guarantee Watson’s contract? Perhaps. But their prime objective was to obtain Watson’s services, any additional stress that puts on other ownerships is just an added byproduct of their actions.
In fact, it would be organizational malpractice to operate in a way that did not give your team an advantage. The Browns have been operating in a deficit since they re-entered the league in 1999, and trading and signing Watson to a fully guaranteed deal was just them attempting to level the playing field.