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NFL executives rip Cleveland Browns for Deshaun Watson contract

Matt Johnson
Cleveland Browns, Deshaun Watson
Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cleveland Browns knew there would be criticism when they made the Deshaun Watson trade this offseason. ALready getting heat from fans and analysts, NFL executives are now taking some shots at the Browns’ organization.

Many around the league expected Watson to net the Houston Texans three first-round picks and Day 2 selections, which is exactly what Cleveland paid. However, the organization’s decision to sign Watson to a multi-year extension worth $230 million guaranteed came as a surprise.

The 26-year-old quarterback already signed a four-year, $160 million extension with Houston in 2020. Because he sat out the 2021 season, the three-time Pro Bowl selection never actually played on the first year of his extension.

Despite not seeing the field for an entire year and in the face of 22 civil suits alleging sexual misconduct and assault, the Browns made Watson one of the highest paid NFL players ever.

The deal struck a nerve with multiple NFL owners, who were against Watson setting a new precedent for guaranteed contracts. It led to some backlash for the Haslam family at the NFL League Meetings, with many highlighting that neither Patrick Mahomes nor Josh Allen received a fully-guaranteed extension.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Cleveland Browns, check out #Browns rumors, rankings, and news here

NFL executives anticipate poor power dynamics for the Cleveland Browns

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Deshaun Watson Press Conference
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

While the financial ramifications of the deal became a point of discussion for team owners, NFL executives see another problem for the Browns.

“People talk about the contract precedent and what that does to the NFL, but that leaves out the simple reality that this guy (Watson) doesn’t need to listen to anybody. If he wants Kevin Stefanski fired, doesn’t like the offense, whatever it is, Cleveland is stuck.”

Anonymous NFL executive on Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson having more power than HC Kevin Stefanski

Stefanski, hired as Cleveland’s head coach in 2020, is the most successful in the organization’s recent history. Following an 11-5 campaign with a playoff victory a season ago, the Browns went 8-9 this past year despite a myriad of injuries.

Instantly, team owner Jimmy Haslam changed the power dynamics in Cleveland. Watson’s deal offers no outs for the franchise and without having even played a snap for the team, he suddenly becomes the most influential person to ownership. While it puts general manager Andrew Berry in a challenging spot, head coach Kevin Stefanski is in an even worse position.

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A second executive also believes all of this bodes poorly for Cleveland’s head coach, telling the Athletic “If you are Stefanski, you are an NBA coach now.” The comparison being made is that Stefanski has no power within the Browns’ organization and Watson can dictate the offense and even Stefanski’s fate.

Deshaun Watson contract ripped by executives, evaluators

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal
Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s a decision that many believe can all be traced back to organizational desperation and brash thinking. As one team executive put it, the Watson trade and extension represent everything that has been said about how Haslam operates Pilot Flying J.

“This was a Flying J move. Anyone who has worked under him for any period of time will tell you the Flying J (Haslam) is one of the most impulsive guys you’ll ever meet.”

NFL executive on Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam acquiring, paying Deshaun Watson

Everyone knew the Watson trade would come and the price Cleveland paid in terms of draft-pick compensation wasn’t seen as outrageous. But NFL executives aren’t the only figures in the league who question why he specifically received the contract.

As one talent evaluator put it, Watson’s overall record of performance and his off-field concerns didn’t warrant becoming one of the highest paid quarterbacks in NFL history.

“My question is, how do you justify paying Tier 1 money for a Tier 2 quarterback with some Tier 3 tendencies and all the lawsuits?” They might as well have paid him in cryptocurrency.”

NFL evaluator on the Deshaun Watson contract signed by Cleveland Browns

Two more NFL executives also aren’t sure if Watson, a quarterback who thrives on off-schedule plays and when throwing deep, will fit in the quicker, shorter Shanahan-style offense that the Browns use. Of course, if it doesn’t work, Watson’s contract likely makes it so he can find a coach who will run the system he wants.