Future of the Browns GM and HC no longer married to Deshaun Watson success

The Cleveland Browns announced extensions for Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, meaning they're no longer married to Deshaun Watson's success — or lack thereof
Cleveland Browns, Deshaun Watson
Cleveland Browns, Deshaun Watson / Nick Cammett/GettyImages

Going into the 2023 season, it appeared as if both Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski needed to get the most out of their polarizing quarterback, Deshaun Watson, to solidify their future with the Cleveland Browns. The 2022 campaign had a black cloud hovering over it because of the Watson trade and subsequent 11-game suspension.

Watson’s subpar play after his suspension to close out the season, combined with a disappointing 7-10 record did very little to generate positive feelings about the direction of the Browns leadership.

In theory, Cleveland was going to get a full season out of Watson in 2023. If Stefanski was unable to get his signal caller to return to the caliber of player that he was before he arrived, then it wasn't going to be the quarterback’s job that was in peril. However, after a handful of inconsistent games from Watson, injuries forced Stefanski to go into his bag of tricks and lean heavily on the 'next man up' mantra.

What the Browns found out about their head coach in 2023 was, that Stefanski will not panic, at least not outwardly. Internally, there were probably all kinds of four-letter expletives being bandied about. But that is not what the players in the locker room saw. They saw the same even-keeled head coach that welcomed them to camp in July.

It was that same steady approach that allowed the team to keep the blinders on and strive to go 1-0 each week. A sentiment that was echoed consistently throughout the locker room. The mission did not change just because they lost their 230 million dollar quarterback, and their expectations did not change either.

In 2023, despite the numerous injuries to key contributors, the Browns were a team that expected to win each time they took the field. Those expectations came from the top of their organization. While the Browns fell short of their ultimate goal last season, ownership recognized that they had the right men in place to take them where they want to go, and they inked both Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski to contract extensions.

Now, once again, in theory, the Browns are hopeful to get a full season out of Deshaun Watson in 2024. Only this time around, if Watson has another failure to launch situation, it will not be the coach and general manager looking for employment…it will be the quarterback.

But what about Deshaun Watson and his contract with the Browns?

Now, I know what you’re already thinking, but what about the money? The Browns can't afford to eat $73 million (post-June 1st, 2025 -per Over The Cap) to get out of Watson’s contract. And yes, there is no way to sugarcoat it, eating that much money in dead cap is not ideal, but, thanks to the Denver Broncos, it would not be unprecedented. The Broncos ate over $85 million throughout the next two seasons to get out of the Russell Wilson business.

It's also noteworthy that the Browns did not attempt to restructure Watson’s contract this season in which the quarterback is due to make just under $64 million against the cap. They could easily lessen Watson’s cap hit this season, but in doing so, it would trigger bigger cap hits down the line and more void years on the backend. By not touching his contract this season, Berry is keeping his options open if Watson proves to not be the long-term answer at the quarterback position.

Obviously, the Browns want Watson to succeed and realize his full potential. That would be the absolute best possible outcome. Given where this roster is at talent-wise, if Watson performs to the best of his abilities, hoisting a Lombardi trophy is among the range of realistic outcomes. But, if Watson isn’t up to snuff in 2024, let’s just say that the Denver Broncos crawled so that the Browns could let Deshaun Watson walk.  

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