The future starts now for the Cleveland Browns, who need Deshaun Watson to look better next season as they look to climb into the contender conversation.
Watson played the final six games for the Browns, with the team going 3-3. Watson — who led the league in passing yards in 2020 — completed 58.2% of his passes for 1,102 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions. He had his moments but the offense as a whole delivered a dud to end the year in a 28-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Watson said he plans to spend plenty of time with head coach Kevin Stefanski — who is also the offensive play-caller — getting things fixed and refined.
“We’re going to have a man-to-man conversation, nothing negative or anything like that,” Watson said Monday during exit interviews. “But just what can we do to be better offensively. And as a team, my next step in taking this team and taking that leadership role is really stepping up there and really taking this whole locker room under my wings. I’m looking forward to that.”
Watson Felt Suspension Impacted Leadership Role
Some rust was expected for Watson, who hadn’t played in a regular season game in 700 days before his start against the Texans. It was very visible at times and he even admitted at one point that it took some time for him to adjust to the speed of the game.
“Taking the time off and then stepping into a new situation, that was going to be tough to do,” Watson said. “Not saying that I can’t do it and I wasn’t going to be able to do it, but as a realist, I knew that there were going to be some challenges and some ups and downs.”
Watson said the 11-game suspension also had an effect on what kind of role he took on in the locker room. He wasn’t in the building until October 10 and that was on a limited basis.
“This year was kind of tough with being in the building, being outside the building, all the different changes and all the unknowns,” Watson said. “But going into this 2023 season and having a pretty clear view of what we can look forward to, I think I can have the opportunity and that’s the role I want to make sure I challenge myself and take over.”
Browns Feel Strong About Watson-Stefanski Pairing
Stefanski has taken his heat over the years for his play-calling, which is something he’s refused to give up since taking over the Browns in 2020. But the Browns are optimistic about the pairing and Watson thriving after some more time in the system.
“We feel very strongly, in terms of really his pairing with Kevin, his skillset adding to the offense. He had his ups and downs throughout the six games, as to be expected,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said. “You saw his ability to make dynamic plays with his arms and legs, but you also saw some of the layoff, as well. We feel good about the progress that he made.”
Watson is a different beast for the Browns at quarterback due to his mobility. It’s not something Baker Mayfield possessed. Jacoby Brissett had a degree of it, but not to the elite level Watson has. Stefanski hopes to maximize Watson’s abilities, as well as those of the top players around him like Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper.
” Ultimately, we do want to maximize Deshaun’s talents, maximize Chubb, David Njoku and Amari,” Stefanski said. “We want to make sure that we are putting all of those guys in a good spot. Yes, there are things that we want to get to this spring and summer that we haven’t gotten into just yet.”