By the time he got back onto the field in December 2022 following an 11-game suspension, Watson was a far cry from his Pro-Bowl form of 2020. The quarterback completed just 58.2% of 170 passing attempts over the final six contests of the year, throwing for seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Cooper, on the other hand, was exceptional last season, despite Cleveland’s issues under center. However, the wideout underwent a surprise offseason surgery to repair a core muscle, creating potential cause for concern in 2023.
But in the wake of Cooper’s injury issues and Watson’s subpar performance, the QB remains bullish on their collective prospects for the upcoming campaign. He shared his thoughts in that regard with Ashley Bastock of Cleveland.com on Tuesday, July 12.
“Amari’s going to be good. He’s a guy that’s a [veteran], been in the league for a while, so he knows exactly what he needs to do to be ready for the season and training camp, and our chemistry is going to be tight,” Watson said. “We’ve been hanging out. We just going to continue to build that chemistry as much as possible.”
Browns Surrounding Amari Cooper With More Weapons in 2023
Cooper is poised for an exceptional season in Cleveland should Watson make a leap in 2023 after shaking off the rust of nearly two years on the sidelines.
The wideout produced a borderline Pro-Bowl campaign in 2022, starting all 17 games and hauling in 78 catches for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference. Cooper posted those statistics despite a thin receiving corps around him and backup QB Jacoby Brissett throwing him the football for essentially two-thirds of the season.
The Browns have made a concerted effort to add weapons to supplement their air attack in 2023, including trading for receiver Elijah Moore, signing deep threat Marquise Goodwin and drafting pass catcher Cedric Tillman out of Tennessee in the third round. Tight end David Njoku and wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones will also be back in Cleveland this season, affording Watson a solid complement of downfield targets to support Cooper, who should remain the No. 1 option as long as he remains healthy.
Amari Cooper May Depart Browns Following Season
Watson and Cooper need to make their connection count this season, as it could well be their last together in Cleveland.
The Browns signed Watson to a five-year deal that keeps him under contract through the 2026 campaign. The team traded with the Dallas Cowboys in March 2022 for the remaining three seasons of Cooper’s five-year, $100 million deal.
After a contract restructure upon his arrival, the receiver is scheduled to cost Cleveland nearly $23.8 million against the salary cap in each of the next two campaigns. However, his dead cap number drops from $15.1 million in 2023 to $11.3 million in 2024, which means the Browns can save considerably more by releasing or trading Cooper ahead of the final year of his deal.
If that does happen, it will happen because Cleveland is hard-pressed to trim its roster budget. A scenario in which the Browns part ways with Cooper next spring or summer toes the line between plausible and likely considering how much the franchise has invested on both sides of the football.
Managing the salary cap will require financial gymnastics essentially every offseason, after Cleveland fully guaranteed all $230 million of Watson’s deal and is paying big, long-term money to several key contributors moving forward.