Sport: Attention on Watson and the Browns Nothing New in Cleveland

Deshaun Watson gets muted reaction at Browns' open practice

  Deshaun Watson gets muted reaction at Browns' open practice BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson sprinted onto the field to a light round of cheers Saturday at the Cleveland Browns' first open practice of training camp. The noticeably muted reaction reflected the uncertainty surrounding Cleveland’s controversial new quarterback. Watson was the focal point as the Browns worked out in front of a near-capacity crowd at their suburban headquarters. He briefly waved while running to the middle of the practice fields, but did not speak with the media.

The team has dealt with a lot of unusual circumstances the last decade, but this one is obviously different.

BEREA, Ohio—This Day 1 wasn’t unlike a lot of others in this corner of suburban Cleveland.

There was the year the Browns had 28-year-old first-round quarterback Brandon Weeden. The year Johnny Manziel arrived. The year Baker Mayfield got here. The year Odell Beckham Jr. came on board. New coach after new coach. Lots of hopes that ended up dashed.

And that’s just in the last decade alone.

So the fact that all eyes are on the Browns at the start of a new training camp, when 28 of 32 teams opened for business on Wednesday, is hardly new.

Browns QB options: What's next after Deshaun Watson suspension, from Jacoby Brissett ... to Jimmy Garoppolo?

  Browns QB options: What's next after Deshaun Watson suspension, from Jacoby Brissett ... to Jimmy Garoppolo? Browns QB options: What's next after Deshaun Watson suspension, from Jacoby Brissett to Jimmy Garoppolo?Cleveland's massive five-year contract for Watson was a big risk and it will come with much bigger salary cap hits in 2023 and beyond. But in 2022, he counts only a little more than $10 million toward the cap. Even with that, the team has the most cap room of any team in the NFL, at more than $48 million.

© PHIL MASTURZO / USA TODAY NETWORK © Provided by Sports Illustrated © PHIL MASTURZO / USA TODAY NETWORK

But for all the reasons it’s the same in Cleveland, it’s so obviously different. And a Browns brass that’s gone 19–14 over its first two years—while modest by some standards, it happens to be the best two-year stretch for the franchise since the 1980s—knows that. Deshaun Watson’s acquisition happened while he was facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment. The number bulged to 24. Twenty have since been settled. Watson and the Browns are still awaiting a ruling on NFL discipline. He hasn’t played in 18 months.

No matter how much homework the Browns did, bringing Watson in gave everyone a lot to reckon with. Cleveland did it knowing that the day it traded for the 26-year-old would be more of a starting point than an end point.

Fans debate Watson's 6-game suspension for assault claims

  Fans debate Watson's 6-game suspension for assault claims HOUSTON (AP) — After Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for six games following accusations by two dozen women in Texas of sexual misconduct during massage treatments, a debate began among fans over whether his discipline was just. Even among Browns fans, who hope Watson can be the franchise quarterback they’ve long searched for, the reaction to his suspension was mixed. Watson was traded to Cleveland from Houston this offseason for three first-round picks and the Browns then signed him to a $230 million, five-year contract, despite his legal issues.

It’s why the Browns, again, are the center of attention as camp begins. It’s also a pretty good indicator of a couple of things Browns people have to be careful discussing, but are unequivocally the truth.

One, for coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry, this was a unique situation, acquiring a player accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault during massage therapy sessions. Still, the Browns gave up three first-round picks for him and then gave him a fully guaranteed 5-year, $230 million contract while throwing their own former first-round quarterback overboard.

Two, and just as important, the Browns believe they have the locker room, and roster, to make everything that was in front of them on Wednesday (players were asked about Watson’s possible suspension and the uncertainty ahead) manageable. Bottom line, you don’t do what Cleveland did if you don’t think you can be a true contender, or have a locker room mature enough to handle the blowback from the acquisition of Watson.

Browns statement on 'remorseful' Deshaun Watson contradicts QB's words, Judge Robinson's ruling

  Browns statement on 'remorseful' Deshaun Watson contradicts QB's words, Judge Robinson's ruling Browns statement on 'remorseful' Deshaun Watson contradicts QB's words, Judge Robinson's rulingIn it, they described Watson as "remorseful," a characterization that contradicts Watson's own words and Robinson's conclusion in her 16-page decision.

“I think everything about that was unique: him being available, and you’re always thinking about how a player is gonna fit into your locker room,” Stefanski told me before practice on Wednesday. “That’s something you talk about when you’re drafting a player, when you’re gonna sign a guy in free agency, and we felt pretty strongly that Deshaun and this locker room would jell.

“And I think we’ve seen that, and I think to Deshaun’s credit, he’s worked very hard at that. That’s something you have to work at, getting to know your teammates on a personal level, and I think he’s done a really good job.”

The football part of this, over the next few weeks, is going to be interesting, too.

For now, neither the Browns nor Watson know whether the quarterback’s going to be gone for four games or eight games or the season or indefinitely. What’s clear is they’re preparing for a suspension of some sort.

That’s obvious in not just the signing of Jacoby Brissett, who has 37 NFL starts under his belt, but also in the plan to give Brissett a very healthy dose of first-team reps until they get final word on Watson. And therein lies another thing the 86 non-quarterbacks on the roster are looking at this summer, too—getting ready to start the season with Brissett at quarterback, while also being prepared for Watson’s return.

Plan (B)rissett: Browns QB 'ready' to fill in for Watson

  Plan (B)rissett: Browns QB 'ready' to fill in for Watson BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson's suspension has forced the Browns to launch their backup plan — with the consummate backup quarterback. Jacoby Brissett, though, has never thought of himself as a second option. "I’m just another quarterback on the roster,” he said. With Watson being suspended six games — pending a possible appeal by the NFL — for v iolating the league's personal conduct policy due to allegations of sexual misconduct, Brissett, now with his fourth team, is Cleveland's short-term starter.

Is it ideal? Of course not. But as the players see it, that part isn’t much different from what they deal with on a day-to-day basis in a league where significant injuries are inevitable for every team.

“You have to play according to you,” star pass rusher Myles Garrett said in a quiet moment on Wednesday. “You don’t know who’s going to be out there at any given time. He could’ve gotten hurt out here this week, next week; anything could happen. You never know who’s gonna be out on the field in Week 1, or at any time down the stretch. You just gotta play the best that you can, adjust to your teammates and build the chemistry enough to be able to work with the teammates that are around you when they’re available and you’re available.”

As Stefanski tries to come up with the best plan to build an offense that works for both Brissett and Watson, he is coming from a place of at least some experience.

He was assistant quarterbacks coach in Minnesota for the 2010 offseason, when the Vikings were preparing Tarvaris Jackson to be their starter while waiting, all the way into mid-August, for word on whether Brett Favre was returning for a 20th season. Six years later, he was Minnesota’s running backs coach when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a freak knee injury in practice. The Vikings traded for Sam Bradford, and the offensive staff had to turn the scheme on a dime to work for a different quarterback days before the opener.

NFL appeals Deshaun Watson suspension: What's next for Roger Goodell, Browns & more after challenge of ruling

  NFL appeals Deshaun Watson suspension: What's next for Roger Goodell, Browns & more after challenge of ruling NFL appeals Deshaun Watson suspension: What's next for Roger Goodell, Browns & more after challenge of rulingIt took the league just two days to file.

“I was there with Teddy, then going to Sam. With quarterbacks, it’s very obvious you’re trying to put those guys in position to succeed; you’re trying to do what they’re comfortable with at all times,” Stefanski said. “That’s our job building out this offense. It’s to have enough in our offense where we can pivot in-game, we can pivot week-to-week based on who you have available.

“I understand this isn’t something where you’re dealing with an injury, but the uncertainty part of it, that’s where as coaches and players oftentimes are in a given practice, in a given week. So that’s how I’ve looked at this situation, totally understanding and respecting everything this entails. Really, I can only deal with the information that I have.”

For now, the Browns are getting Watson and Brissett ready for the season. They’re building an offense that works for both. They’re waiting.

And sure, there’s excitement, if a bit muted, over what all this could look like down the line.

“I’ve been very impressed with Deshuan in the building, from the moment he walked in here in April,” Stefanski said. “He’s done an outstanding job of getting to know his position, getting to know this offense, pushing himself, pushing others, getting to know his teammates. He’s been very impressive in that regard.”

But, of course, the Watson that the Browns have gotten is the one they expected, because it mirrors what those in Houston saw in him—“Great teammate, great player, good to see him on the field doing his thing … He just looks good,” said Garrett. No one expected there to be problems with Watson in how he integrated with his coaches and teams, and if anyone in Cleveland would have, there's no way the Browns take the risk and absorb the criticism (much of it warranted) that was inevitable in trading for him.

Waiting game: Watson, Browns open camp as NFL ruling looms

  Waiting game: Watson, Browns open camp as NFL ruling looms BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson's first practice of training camp with the Browns was unusual: indoors, helmetless and brief. He did take snaps with the starters. It's unclear if it will stay that way. Cleveland's controversial quarterback practiced Wednesday as the Browns began preparing for the upcoming season still not knowing if Watson will be suspended by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy. Watson has been accused by two dozen massage therapists in Texas of sexual misconduct, and the three-time Pro Bowler faces possible punishment from league disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who has been weighing his case for weeks.

Garrett also emphasized that so many of the Browns have seen so much over the last five or six years that the group is well-prepared for what lies ahead, with so many eyes on where this one goes. “We’ve been through it before,” he continued. “It doesn’t necessarily get easier; you’ve just kind of seen it before.”

Yet, this one’s absolutely different. And whatever result the Browns get from it, too, remains to be seen.

More Deshaun Watson Coverage:

  • Understanding How Watson and 22 Women Arrived Here
  • The Problems With the NFL’s Deshaun Watson Investigation
  • A Massage Therapist on Her Session With Deshaun Watson
  • NFL Needs to Bench Deshaun Watson After Latest Details Emerge
  • When Deshaun Watson Says He ’Never Disrespected’ a Woman, Do the Cleveland Browns Believe Him?

With Watson on board, Browns bracing for more boos on road .
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The booing has begun, and it's only the preseason. The Cleveland Browns expect it to increase and intensify over the months ahead. Deshaun Watson is a target, and so are his teammates. As they prepare for Watson to be suspended by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy, the Browns know they're probably going to be subjected to rougher and rowdier treatment from fans during road games this season. Watson has madeDeshaun Watson is a target, and so are his teammates.

See also