Browns Must Consider Firing Andrew Berry After Watson Debacle, Mayfield’s Success

Andrew Berry, Browns

Getty Cleveland Browns co-owner Jimmy Haslam (left) talks with general manager Andrew Berry (right) during an NFL preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles in August 2022.

The Cleveland Browns have made impressive strides over the past two seasons, though they’ve done so in spite of quarterback Deshaun Watson and not because of him.

The Browns have progressed to an 11-win playoff team over the past two years, but general manager Andrew Berry’s deal to acquire Watson from the Houston Texans now appears clearly, and by far, the worst transaction in franchise history.

As Cleveland heads into the 2024 offseason — largely hamstrung by the albatross that is Watson’s $230 million fully-guaranteed contract and handcuffed to a quarterback who has started 12 games across two campaigns — the organization should at least consider parting ways with Berry over the managerial malpractice he committed in the trade for Watson.

The notion that the collective choices Berry made to acquire Watson equate to a fireable offense is supported in no small part by the success that quarterback Baker Mayfield had with the Tampa Buccaneers in 2023 — a division champion that fell just short of a berth in next weekend’s NFC Championship Game in a one-score loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday night, January 21.

Deshaun Watson Has Been Glaring Disappointment Since Joining Browns

Deshaun Watson will be the starter for the Browns when he returns next season.

GettyQuarterback Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns were a solid team all season, though most of their success came on the back of the defense, which was elite at home, but often somewhere between gettable and legitimately suspect against quality opponents on the road. The aforementioned Texans beat down the Browns over Super Wild Card Weekend in Houston, outscoring the franchise they fleeced into taking Watson by a score of 45-14.

Watson didn’t play in that game. Instead, he watched from the sideline due to a season-ending shoulder surgery he underwent in November. Watson started only six games for the Browns this season, and while he went 5-1 as the starter, his numbers were mediocre at best while Cleveland’s offense fell far short of overwhelming. The QB completed just 61.4% of his passes for 1,115 yards, 7 TDs and 4 INTs, per Pro Football Reference.

Watson started just six games in 2022, his first year with the Browns, due to an 11-game NFL suspension following more than two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct — off-field issues that Berry and the rest of Cleveland’s front office largely ignored or tried to sidestep during and after their acquisition of the polarizing quarterback.

While Watson had been a three-time consecutive Pro Bowler in Houston between 2018-20, Berry and company also ignored the fact that the Texans sidelined the QB for the entirety of the 2021 campaign (with pay) after he demanded a trade and then the accusations began piling up.

Watson is going to cost $64 million against the Browns’ salary cap sheet in each of the next three seasons and carries an average annual cost of $46 million across the five-year contract, running from 2022 through the 2026 campaign.

Baker Mayfield’s Cost Has Been, and Will Be, Exponentially Lower than Deshaun Watson’s

Baker Mayfield

GettyQuarterback Baker Mayfield of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Not only will that bill cripple the team’s ability to build a roster around Watson on offense and keep the defense elite over the next three years, it is a glaring overpay when compared with the money Mayfield has earned over the past two seasons.

The Browns exercised the $18.858 million fifth-year option on Mayfield’s contract for the 2022 campaign before making the decision to trade for Watson. Cleveland had to agree to pay $10.5 million of that amount in order to complete a trade of Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers in the summer of 2022. Mayfield sacrificed $3.5 million to make the deal work, which made his non-Browns cost that season essentially $5 million.

After bouncing around from Carolina to the Los Angeles Rams over the course of that season, Mayfield signed in Tampa Bay for the paltry salary of $4 million. In practical terms then, Mayfield cost teams not based in Cleveland just $9 million over the previous two seasons.

Baker Mayfield Has Outplayed Deshaun Watson Since Browns’ Trades in 2022

Baker Mayfield has "stability" with the Buccaneers, which he did not have with the Cleveland Browns.

GettyQuarterback Baker Mayfield of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mayfield completed 64.3% of his passes in 2023. He gained 4,044 passing yards and threw for 28 TDs, both career highs, while throwing just 10 INTs on the way to a 9-8 record and the NFC South Division Championship.

The Bucs then defeated the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles by a score of 32-9 on the strength of 337 yards and 3 TDs. The quarterback fought valiantly Sunday in Detroit, throwing for 349 yards and 3 scores in an 8-point loss. Mayfield did throw a game-sealing interception to the Lions defense on the Bucs’ final drive of the game, his second pick of the contest.

Even still, Mayfield has proven himself a better leader as well as a healthier and more productive NFL quarterback than Watson over the last two years — and it isn’t even close. Beyond that, Mayfield has earned $9 million in guaranteed money from opposing franchises over the past two years, while Watson has robbed the Browns to the tune of $92 million in value, with another $138 million owed.

If that isn’t a case for Cleveland firing its GM, there may be none that exists.

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