Deshaun Watson’s $54.9 million cap hit in 2023 will be largest in NFL history

Every year in the NFL, we see the market reset for the highest-paid players in the league. That’s the expectation once again with players like Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow set to receive contract extensions this offseason. But as of right now, no player in NFL history has ever had a larger salary cap hit than Deshaun Watson is set to have for the Cleveland Browns in 2023.

No other player has ever had a cap hit higher than $39 million. Watson’s 2023 cap hit will be a ridiculous $54.9 million, by far a new NFL record. It’s 21.7% of the team’s entire spending limit.

Not only is Watson set to have the biggest cap hit in NFL history, he already has irked several NFL owners and front offices thanks to signing the largest fully-guaranteed contract in NFL history at $230 million.

So far, the Browns haven’t gotten a strong return on their massive investment in Watson. Not only will he be set to earn $54.9 million each year through 2026, the Browns also traded the 13th pick in 2022, the 12th pick in 2023 plus another first-round pick in 2024, a third, plus two fourth-round picks for Watson.

He went .500 as a starter in just six games a season ago, and if his 58.2% completion rate is any indication of what’s to come, the Browns may have an albatross on their hands.

The worst part about all of this? If Watson doesn’t return to his previous Pro Bowl form, the Browns are completely stuck with him. Cutting Watson in 2024 would incur a debilitating $164 million cap penalty. In 2025, that number ‘shrinks’ to $109 million, and in 2026, it goes down to $54.9 million. By the way, no NFL team has ever taken a cap penalty of $50 million or more for one player.

In other words, the Browns better hope Watson turns his career around in 2023. Otherwise, the dysfunctional jokes will start all over again for a franchise that has already gone through enough. Yet, that was the risk they knew they were taking when making the decision to pursue Watson.

Related: 12 highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL: Market will reset in 2023

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