Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Richard/AP/Shutterstock (13619978a) Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson stands on the field before an NFL preseason football game against the Chicago Bears, on Aug. 27, 2022, in Cleveland. Watson can begin practicing, as part of his agreement with the NFL on an 11-game suspension after being accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women when he played for Houston Browns Watson Football, Cleveland, United States – 27 Aug 2022
When the Texans traded quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Browns for three first-round draft choices, not much was made about the additional compensation general manager Nick Caserio received from Cleveland.
Every time you watch rookie running back Dameon Pierce carry the ball, you can thank the Browns.
And Caserio, of course.
Watson being able to practice with the Browns for the first time on Wednesday caused me to look back at the trade.
On Dec. 4, Watson’s 11-game suspension ends, and he makes his debut with the Browns at NRG Stadium in a game that will attract national attention.
Pierce, who came to Houston with a pick Caserio acquired as part of the Watson trade package, already is attracting national attention. He is fifth in the NFL in rushing with 772 yards and averaging 4.7 yards going into Sunday’s game against Washington at NRG Stadium.
Besides first-round picks in 2022, 2023, and 2024, the Texans received picks in the fourth round this year, third round in 2023, and fourth round in 2024.
Caserio used the fourth-round selection – 107th overall – on Pierce, who is the Texans’ best and most exciting player, their MVP.
Caserio turned the first-round pick – 13th overall – into guard Kenyon Green with the 15th overall selection.
Caserio was not finished with the Browns. He sent three lower picks – 68, 108, and 104 — to Cleveland for a second-round selection so he could take receiver John Metchie III, who is undergoing treatment for Leukemia and hopes to be available next season.
In the week leading up to the Cleveland game, all the attention will be on Watson and the Browns, but the game will give Pierce another opportunity to gain some hard-earned national recognition.
Watson, who signed a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contract, was suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Browns hoped quarterback Jacoby Brissett could keep them in playoff contention. Then, as the plan was laid out, Watson would return and lead them to the playoffs, perhaps even win the AFC North.
Those plans have gone awry. The Browns are 3-6 and a huge disappointment. They have lost five of six games. They play at Buffalo on Sunday and host Tampa Bay before Watson returns against the Texans.
Coach Kevin Stefanski has an additional problem. Brissett, who has played as well as he is capable, needs first-team reps in practice to help the Browns prepare for the Bills and Buccaneers. But Watson also needs reps with the first team to get ready for his return.
It is up to Stefanski to try to find a balance with both quarterbacks so the Browns do not continue to crash and burn.
Before his suspension went into effect the week the regular season began, Watson was able to participate in the offseason program, training camp, and preseason. Then he was forced to vacate the premises on Aug. 30. He was allowed to return to the team on Oct. 10 to work on his conditioning and attend meetings but could not practice.
Now Watson can do anything Stefanski wants.
The Browns will say all the right things about being confident and excited about Watson’s return to the playing field, but it will be the first time he has taken a snap since the last game of the 2020 season.
In Watson’s last game with the Texans before he issued his trade demand – and two months before civil lawsuits started piling up accusing him of sexual assault and sexual misconduct – he put on an exceptional performance at NRG Stadium.
In a 41-38 loss to the Titans, Watson completed 28-of-39 for 365 yards and three touchdowns. He threw one interception and compiled a 115.9 rating.
When the Browns signed Watson to the largest contract in NFL history, they knew they would get heavily criticized locally and nationally. The idea was to weather the storm of criticism until Watson returned and showed he would be worth the $230 million guaranteed.
In his last season with the Texans, Watson was magnificent. It was not his fault they finished 4-12. He completed 70.2 percent of his passes. He threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. He led the NFL with an average of 8.9 yards per attempt. His 112.4 rating was second to Aaron Rodgers. He also ran for 444 yards and three touchdowns.
Watson may never have another statistical season like 2020. The Browns are a run-first team with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt for a reason. Their stadium sits on Lake Erie, and the weather can be horrible in December and January. Wind and rain can make it miserable at other times of the season, too. They always try to have a strong running game built around at least two productive backs.
Watson made one appearance in Cleveland with the Texans. On Nov. 15, 2020, the weather was so bad the stands had to be evacuated. Fortunately, there were only 10,613 fans in attendance because of the pandemic.
Those conditions had nothing to do with the temperature. It was 59 degrees at kickoff. The wind, rain, and lightning were so ferocious the field had to be cleared, too.
When they finally kicked off, the Browns won 10-7. Watson threw for 163 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 5.43 yards per attempt.
No wonder Cleveland was the first team eliminated from his four finalists. Until the Browns came back with that record-breaking contract offer that made the weather a little more palatable.
It is going to be interesting to see how Watson plays after his return to Houston. The rest of his games will be played outdoors in December and January. The Browns’ closing schedule is at Cincinnati, Baltimore, and New Orleans at home and Washington and Pittsburgh on the road.
The Browns will have to wait until next season to learn if their $230 million investment can become their first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards since Brian Sipe in 1980.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).