Some changes could be coming to Deshaun Watson’s record-setting contract with the Cleveland Browns.
Watson inked a massive five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million deal after being traded to the Browns last offseason in a blockbuster move. Now the team has to deal with a record salary cap hit of $55 million.
The Browns are currently $14 million over the cap and restructuring Watson’s deal is one significant way they can make an impact on that number with free agency approaching.
“It could be on the table, but there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of what we can do,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
The Browns went all-in to get Watson, giving up a treasure trove of first-round picks to get him, along with the record-setting deal. He showed some visible rust after almost two years away from the game last season after returning to the lineup.
Watson played the final six games for the Browns, with the team going 3-3. Watson completed 58.2% of his passes for 1,102 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions.
Berry expects to see Watson more comfortable within the offense next season and has no concerns about his play.
“We are very excited about Deshaun. We are looking forward to continuing to evolve the offense over the next several months,” Berry said. “Obviously having him have a full offseason going into 2023 and certainly expect him to play at a high level.”
Berry Declines to Comment on Lamar Jackson Situation
One side effect of giving Watson a mega-deal is that it’s impacted other negotiations around the league. One interesting example is within the AFC North, with the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson having some contentious negotiations on an extension.
The former MVP saw Watson haul in a fully-guaranteed deal and reports point to him wanting something that is similar to or exceeds what he got. Berry declined to speak on the topic of Watson’s deal shifting the landscape of QB deals around the league.
“I don’t know that would really be appropriate for me to comment on Lamar or anything like that. It is probably a better question for another team,” Berry said. “I don’t have a crystal ball for that to be honest. My guess is it is probably more unlikely that it would, but I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Browns Have Clear Needs in Free Agency
The Browns have some very clear needs this offseason, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. They’ll need to upgrade the defensive line, with All-Pro Myles Garrett the only full-time starter from a season ago under contract to return. They’ll also need to replace safety John Johnson III, who Berry confirmed they’d be releasing on Tuesday.
“I will start by saying John, the first thought probably is just gratitude in terms of what he has done the past two years on the field and in the locker room for us,” Berry said. “We after just looking at the roster and thinking about where we want to be in 2023 thought it would be the best move for the organization to really part ways. That certainly doesn’t minimize what John was able to do while he was with our team.”
The Browns could look to the draft to fill Johnson’s spot on the depth chart but will more than likely look for a veteran free agent. Bengals safety Jessie Bates III is a player the Browns have been repeatedly linked to this offseason.
“All of that really is to be determined to be honest. It is a long offseason that really doesn’t formally begin until the middle of March,” Berry said. “As we always do, we will stay flexible, we will stay adaptable and try and map our resources to opportunities.”
Wide receiver is also a position of need for the Browns, who would be smart to add another reliable set of hands to go with Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones.