Browns Predicted to Author Biggest Turnaround in NFL

Deshaun Watson, Browns

Getty Quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns need QB Deshaun Watson to recapture the player he was three years ago to validate any playoff aspirations, but one NFL analyst believes the team is on the rise regardless.

Marc Ross of NFL Network predicted on Saturday, September 2, that the Browns will author the “biggest turnaround” in the league this year when it comes to the win/loss column. Cleveland finished the 2022 campaign with a mark of 7-10, good enough for last place in an AFC North Division that sent its three other members to the postseason.

“There is no bigger wild-card team than the Browns this season. That’s mostly due to Deshaun Watson and which version of him we will see this year,” Ross wrote. “The difference between Watson regaining his top-five form and last year’s bottom-five performance could determine whether the Browns are true Super Bowl contenders or stay a sub-.500 team. With one of the most talented rosters in the league, though, the Browns’ win total should increase from 2022 even with a mediocre Watson.”

Browns Built Expensive Team Around Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson, Browns

GettyQuarterback Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns warms up before an NFL game against the Washington Commanders in January 2023.

Ross clearly believes that the Watson of this year will be closer to the player he was in 2020 than in 2022, otherwise his prediction wouldn’t hold water — particularly with teams like the Chicago Bears out there who won just three games last season before drafting well and spending a boatload in free agency.

To end up the league’s most-improved franchise, the Browns will probably need to win in the neighborhood of 12 games. That’s no easy feat considering their divisional opponents, even as the league enters its third year with a 17-game schedule.

The argument for that outcome, beyond Watson, boils down to the money Cleveland spent this offseason revamping its roster. There will likely be three new starters on the defensive line — edge Za’Darius Smith and defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris — joining the one holdover in All-Pro pass-rusher Myles Garrett.

Cleveland also traded with the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Amari Cooper two offseasons past before dealing for former New York Jets pass-catcher Elijah Moore and extending tight end David Njoku in 2023. Beyond that, the team has shelled out big money over the past couple of years to preserve one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and to extend stars like running back Nick Chubb and cornerback Denzel Ward.

Browns Have Ample Salary Cap Space Remaining if Necessary

Deshaun Watson

GettyCleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (left) talks with head coach Kevin Stefanski (right).

In the arms race that is the division, and the AFC as a whole, the Browns have certainly stockpiled weapons. But it will be Watson orchestrating the attack and his role as conductor will either amplify an impressive set of skill-position talent and defensive stoppers, or it will put both groups in bad positions that will be even more costly due the reduced margin for error given the competition.

Despite all the money the team has spent, including on Watson who has the biggest contract of all at $230 million fully-guaranteed, the Browns lead the league in salary cap space due to the restructuring of several stars’ deals.

Cleveland has nearly $27 million in room to improve its roster further, which the franchise might use quickly should it stumble out of the gate — particularly with the jobs of head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry potentially on the line.

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