The Browns’ decision to make a major quarterback upgrade has generated multifront pushback, given Deshaun Watson‘s off-field trouble and the contract structure’s effect on other teams’ future QB negotiations. The fully guaranteed $230MM did not surface until late in the process.
Watson initially rejected the Browns, and Jimmy Haslam said third-year GM Andrew Berry approached him with a radical idea to put the team back in the mix for the Pro Bowl passer. Berry pitched the idea of a fully guaranteed contract to move the needle, Haslam said. The result: a five-year deal that saw the Browns break the NFL’s record for fully guaranteed money authorized by $80MM.
“I don’t how much Andrew knew,” Haslam said of other teams’ contract offers, via the Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich. “First of all, I don’t know what’s accurate. [Berry] just said, ‘Would we consider fully guaranteeing it?’ OK. What’s that mean? When’s the money due? Do you do four versus five [years]. Can we make this work? And he got us comfortable with that.”
Although four teams were finalists for Watson, it appears just one was willing to go to this extreme place. Watson refusing to waive his no-trade clause for the Browns may well have centered on Cleveland’s weather compared to the three NFC South cities in this mix. Browns co-owner Dee Haslam said Wednesday she believed this was the case. While Berry’s fully guaranteed pitch is quite the step to convince a quarterback to play in northeast Ohio, Watson had three other teams pursuing him.
The Falcons were on the verge of landing the Atlanta-area native, appearing to finish second ahead of the Saints and Panthers in this unusual pursuit. The Panthers were not comfortable guaranteeing the final two years of Watson’s contract, Ulrich adds, and Arthur Blank did not make it sound like the Falcons were prepared to authorize this landmark guarantee, either. Blank said the Falcons were only doing due diligence when they met with Watson, though the team being later reported as on the verge of landing him would contradict the owner’s view of his team’s interest.
“You have to leave that to Jimmy and Dee Haslam, to make their own judgment,” Blank said, via USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. “The fact it’s $80MM above the highest contract ever given, guaranteed, in the history of the league, 102 years old, says a lot. Whether most teams in the NFL or any other team in the NFL would have committed to that contract, I don’t know. That certainly is a huge commitment.”
It is interesting contract matters played into these talks, considering Watson had only played one season on the $39MM-per-year deal he signed with the Texans in 2020. Technically, Watson was tied to that contract for two years, since Houston deactivated him throughout the 2021 season. But that Texans deal ran through 2025. Watson having a no-trade clause gave him considerable power, and the bidding war led to the Browns making an offer he could not refuse.