Browns’ Signing Casts Shadow of Doubt on Deshaun Watson’s Future

The Browns will be looking to add a playmaker this offseason to work with Deshaun Watson.

Getty Images The Browns will be looking to add a playmaker this offseason to work with Deshaun Watson.

The Cleveland Browns have a stacked quarterback room and despite the depth it provides, that may not actually be the best thing considering what it says about Deshaun Watson.

Cleveland’s desire to have multiple quality backups behind its starter is more than understandable, given Watson has played just six regular-season games in each of his two seasons with the team. But coming off of a season-ending shoulder surgery and entering into a make-or-break year, the fact that the Browns signed both Jameis Winston and Tyler Huntley has raised some eyebrows around the city.

A lack of confidence in Watson’s durability and/or efficacy is also a viable explanation for why the franchise chose to add Huntely — a former starter for the Baltimore Ravens — alongside Winston, a previous No. 1 overall pick.

“The Browns erred badly in starting the 2023 season with raw rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson as the top backup behind Watson. I believe they learned from it,” Tony Grossi of The Land on Demand and ESPN 850 wrote in a mailbag on March 31. “When Huntley was left unsigned, they saw him as a cheap insurance policy in case Watson and Winston get injured. They keep saying Watson will be fine, but the emphasis on experienced backup quarterbacks this year would lead anyone to believe that nothing is guaranteed.”

Tyler Huntley Has Proven Himself Capable NFL Starter, Earned Pro Bowl Honors With Ravens

Former Ravens QB Tyler Huntley has signed with the Cleveland Browns.

GettyFormer Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley has signed with the Cleveland Browns.

Huntley has never been an every-week starter since joining the Ravens in 2020. However, Baltimore has called on him multiple times across multiple seasons to fill in for two-time MVP Lamar Jackson.

Huntley is something of a poor man’s Jackson with his mobility and the threat he can present as both a passer and rusher of the football. Huntley is 3-6 in nine career starts, all of which have come over the past three seasons, and has taken snaps in a total of 20 games.

He earned surprise Pro Bowl honors following a 2-2 effort in 2022 after Jackson went down with injury. Huntley finished that campaign with a completion percentage of 67% for 658 passing yards, 2 TDs and 3 INTs. He also gained 137 rushing yards and scored 1 TD on the ground, per Pro Football Reference.

Over the course of his career, Huntley has completed 64.6% of his pass attempts for 1,957 yards, 8 TDs and 7 INTs. He has carried the ball 115 times for 509 yards (4.4 yards per rush) and 3 TDs. Cleveland signed the 26-year-old Huntley to a one-year contract worth just shy of $1.3 million.

Deshaun Watson Has Struggled Even When Available to Play for Browns

The Cleveland Browns added more quarterback depth behind Deshaun Watson with the signing of Tyler Huntley.

GettyThe Cleveland Browns added more quarterback depth behind Deshaun Watson with the signing of Tyler Huntley.

Huntley is more than a serviceable backup and breaks the mold of most No. 3 quarterbacks in the NFL. His presence on the roster, which didn’t come until after the Browns added Winston, indicates that Cleveland’s coaching staff and front office expect they may need Huntley before the regular season is over.

The team needed Joe Flacco to lead it to the AFC Playoffs as a wildcard team in 2023, as the QB finished the year with a 4-1 record and an average of more than 300 passing yards per game. Flacco’s downfall was his turnover problem, specifically the interceptions he threw. Winston has faced similar struggles in his NFL career, throwing 99 interceptions in 93 games played.

If Watson gets hurt or struggles again in 2024, which history suggests he will, Winston is going to have to figure out a way to keep the Browns’ offense good enough to compete, as its No. 1 ranked defense in 2023 tries to lead the franchise back to the playoffs. If he fails, Huntley will get a shot.

However, if either of those scenarios plays out, what it means for Cleveland is much bigger than just who stands in for Watson down the stretch of the regular season.

Browns’ Trade/Contract for Deshaun Watson Approaching Status of Worst Move in Recent NFL History

Andrew Berry, Browns

GettyGeneral manager Andrew Berry of the Cleveland Browns.

Watson is entering the third season of a five-year contract worth $230 million, all of which the team has fully guaranteed. He has posted a record of 8-4 in his 12 starts for the Browns, but has completed just 59.8% of his passes for 2,217 yards, 14 TDs and 9 INTs over that span.

Another performance of that caliber — or missing a significant number of games for injury, or really any other reason — will usher in legitimate questions of whether it is time for the Browns to move on from Watson for good.

Reaching that point will cement the deal that Cleveland made for Watson — which included the surrendering of three first-round picks and several more draft assets to the Houston Texans, along with paying the QB $230 million — as one of the worst moves in recent NFL history, and perhaps ever.

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