Browns GM Breaks Silence on Plans to Mitigate Burden of Deshaun Watson

Andrew Berry

Getty General manager Andrew Berry of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns still believe in Deshaun Watson, at least in part because they have no other choice.

General manager Andrew Berry recently downplayed the quarterback’s suffocating contract, which balloons to a salary cap hit of nearly $64 million in 2024 and will remain there through the life of the deal (2026) unless the Browns hit the restructure button yet again.

Zac Jackson of The Athletic interviewed Berry during the Senior Bowl and asked him point blank if the front office plans to make a move to push more of Watson’s massive contract burden into the future to create room to add talent this offseason.

“I’ll be honest, I’m not there yet,” Berry said. “It’s not a necessity (to lower that), but it just kind of depends on how we put the plan together.”

Deshaun Watson’s Contract Will Make Winning That Much Harder in Cleveland Over Next 3 Years

Andrew Berry

GettyGeneral manager Andrew Berry of the Cleveland Browns.

Berry knows more than most people on the planet about NFL team building and salary cap negotiation. He built a winner in Cleveland this year, capturing 11 victories and a playoff berth in spite of Watson playing just six games.

Yet the idea that the QB’s contract, which Berry mortgaged the franchise’s future to grant, isn’t a major concern strains credulity. The Browns GM will probably never admit publicly that it was a mistake to give up five meaningful draft picks, including three first-rounders, in trade for Watson just for the right to pay him the largest fully-guaranteed contract in the history of the sport ($230 million).

But one thing is certain, whether Berry and the rest of the organization acknowledge it or not — winning over the next three years is going to be considerably more difficult given the financial conundrum Watson presents.

Spotrac currently estimates that Cleveland is $20.5 million in the red with regards to next season’s projected salary cap, though Jackson pointed out that the team will roll over approximately $30 million from last year. Still, extending current players and adding more talent, which the Browns clearly must do to compete at the top of the AFC, means hard decisions on tentpole players — some of which might not be necessary absent Watson’s cap hit.

“Last month, Berry said the Browns hope to retain Nick Chubb but acknowledged that the running back will likely have to re-do his current deal, which calls for Chubb to count around $16 million on the 2024 cap,” Jackson wrote. “Chubb is rehabbing from two knee surgeries, and the Browns would only incur around $4 million in dead money if he’s not on the roster.”

Andrew Berry Says Browns’ Primary Concern With Deshaun Watson Is Health

Deshaun Watson delivered an honest assessment of the Browns' playoff loss to the Texans.

GettyQuarterback Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns.

Jackson noted that the franchise can open up around $33 million in cap space if it re-works Watson’s deal by “pushing guaranteed money into potential dead money down the road to lower salary-cap numbers for the upcoming season.”

So, to be clear, opening up more cap space now further hamstrings the team’s future — and all for a player in Watson who has rarely been on the field and has been mediocre, at best, when healthy.

“We feel good about Deshaun. I think the biggest thing is just him staying on the field, keeping [him] on the field,” Berry told Jackson. “But in terms of just Deshaun in particular, we’re excited. We just want to make sure he’s healthy.”

The implication is that injury is all that has stood in Watson’s path to success over the past two years. However, an 11-game suspension from the NFL for violating its player code of conduct policy after more than two dozen claims of sexual misconduct against the quarterback has literally had exactly as much to do with Watson’s unavailability as his injuries have.

The suspension cost Watson all but six regular-season games in 2022, and the shoulder injury cost him all but six contests in 2023. But Watson’s cost to the team has remained as consistent as it has onerous, and the upcoming season is make or break for both the QB and the GM in regards to what could go down as among the worst deals in NFL history.

Anything Short of Playoffs in Cleveland Next Season Should Bring Browns Management, QB Under Serious Scrutiny

Andrew Berry

GettyCleveland Browns co-owner Jimmy Haslam (left) talks with general manager Andrew Berry (right).

Joe Flacco bailed the Browns out of a bad situation last season and helped the team make the playoffs, doing so for only $2.5 million. Any regression at all in 2024 absent Flacco’s presence could, and probably should, serve as call for a serious reassessment of the organization’s direction under Berry and with Watson at the helm of the offense.

In other words, Watson had better behave himself and conjure at least a shadow of the Pro-Bowl player he was before his off-field trouble and subsequent jump from the Houston Texans to Cleveland.

Berry, meanwhile, had better do whatever he needs to do to open up cap space for the current window and build a consistent winner around his quarterback, because the clock is ticking, and the long-term future isn’t exactly bright.

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