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Going Camping: Cleveland Browns

Sportsnaut
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson talks with head coach Kevin Stefansky after minicamp on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 in Canton, Ohio, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.Browns Hof 4
Credit: PHIL MASTURZO / USA TODAY NETWORK

Looming over the start of training camp is the potential for new franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson to face discipline from the NFL, putting a fresh start for both sides on hold.

Watson’s off-field behavior was the subject of legal and NFL investigations but the Browns acquired him from the Houston Texans and handed him a $230 million contract.

When he takes the field again after sitting out last season in Houston is still a mystery.

And that variable makes an assessment of the Browns anyone’s guess.

Training camp location: Berea, Ohio
CrossCountry Mortgage Campus
Rookie report date: July 22
Veteran report date: July 26

Key Acquisitions: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Amari Cooper, DE Jadeveon Clowney, WR Jakeem Grant, QB Jacoby Brissett, DT Taven Bryan

Key Losses: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Jarvis Landry, TE Austin Hooper, FB Andy Janovich, CB M.J. Stewart

The trade for Deshaun Watson overshadows everything else due to the amount of risk the Browns took on in acquiring him (five years, $230 million) coupled with the assets they had to give up to make the deal — three first-round draft picks along with three more picks — and future restrictions for spending on the rest of the roster. That said, he is a three-time Pro Bowler and has the potential to improve the team’s fortunes if he’s on the field and the team avoids injuries elsewhere. The Browns also made some shrewd moves, including bringing in Jacoby Brissett ($4.65 million), a decent insurance policy at quarterback. Amari Cooper didn’t cost the team very much (in draft capital or in dollars spent), while adding Taven Bryan (1 year, $4 million) and re-signing Jadeveon Clowney (1 year, $10 million) were wise decisions that will help the defensive front. The losses of Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper in free agency have been mitigated (the latter via the extension of David Njoku), but did the team adequately replace fullback Andy Janovich or cornerback M.J. Stewart? Perhaps not. The draft provides optimism, as even without a pick in the first two rounds, the Browns were able to add nine talented players in the mid-to-late rounds. Third-round selections cornerback Martin Emerson, defensive end Alex Wright and wide receiver David Bell along with fourth-round picks defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey and kicker Cade York give Cleveland good odds that someone (or multiple someones) will pan out.

Watson will be hard-pressed to make this contract or the trade itself look like a fair deal, and if he can’t, the risk won’t have been worth it.

–WEEK 1 IN FOCUS:

Panthers vs Browns, 1 p.m. ET
Bank of America Stadium
Charlotte, N.C.
Line: Browns -1
Total: 41.5

Anyone confident Deshaun Watson suits up should run to the window for the Watson-v-Baker Mayfield Week 1 game with Cleveland as a minuscule favorite in a game that could be closer to Browns -6 or -6.5 under normal circumstances. The same goes for the tiny point total of 41.5, which will be as low as any Week 1 projection. Of course, Watson’s availability isn’t certain at this juncture, meaning the risk for early bettors is they bite on a line and wind up backing Jacoby Brissett on the road in Week 1.

–MAKE IT A DOUBLE?

Can the Browns win 10 or more games in 2022?

FanDuel is offering reasonable +115 odds on Cleveland getting to 10-plus wins in 17 games.

The AFC North remains rugged, underscored by the out-of-nowhere Super Bowl run by the Cincinnati Bengals last season. But the Browns are still one of the most talented teams in the AFC, and going 12-5 — again, with Watson at QB and not on the suspended list — seems possible.

–Field Level Media