If there’s anybody on earth who should empathize with Deshaun Watson, it’s another former Cleveland Browns quarterback who was brought in to play savior to a squad cursed (or committed?) to self-destruct in ever more creative ways. Including Watson, the Browns have had 36 — yes, 36 — men start at their most important position since the team’s 1999 reboot, and while most of them, to steal from Junior Soprano, never had the makings of an NFL starter, almost every one of them was further crippled by the Browns’ legendary incompetence at building a complementary roster, hiring a head coach, or both.
Brady Quinn was No. 11 out of that 36, starting a dozen games for Cleveland in 2008 and 2009, the dark days when Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini [Ed. note: Hi Jets fans, remember him?] were in charge of running the Browns aground on Lake Erie, so he should know a little bit about the position Watson now finds himself in. So you’ll forgive the rest of the football world’s, “Holy sh*t, not you fam,” response to Quinn going nuclear on Watson on social media this week, spawning a Twitter fight between himself and Watson’s personal QB coach, Quincy Avery.
Yeah, that happened. If you’re missing the subtext, Quinn takes issue with the fact that Watson has only been on the field sporadically the past few weeks, the result of a shoulder injury he took in a Week 3 game. He’ll miss his third contest of the year this upcoming week. The Browns have yet to send him to IR, and at one point head coach Kevin Stefanski even told reporters that Watson decided he couldn’t play even after being medically cleaned for a game. That’s when questions about his commitment to the team he was brought in to save flared up.
Watson rightfully dismissed the speculation that he’s content to sit back and collect on his record-breaking, $230 million guaranteed contract, which nobody should doubt. With his first team, the Houston Texans, Watson played through injury and proved his toughness on the field routinely. But whether he’ll ultimately be what the Browns thought he would be when they threw money at him like rich divorcees in a strip club is another question. Although he’s only played in 10 games since becoming the Browns’ starter at the end of last year, his passer rating so far this season and last have been the worst of his career. Maybe that’s rust — after all the man didn’t play due to his infamous off-field troubles for two years. Or maybe — and this is the terrifying part if you’re a Browns fan — this is his ceiling now, and the Browns are locked into a contract they can’t maneuver around for three years after this season. Time will tell.
Either way, who couldn’t have seen this coming? Especially Quinn, who knows intimately how awful the Browns have managed the quarterback position and how historically creative they are at fouling up the one thing no NFL team can afford to stumble on. If Quinn sees Watson as an ungrateful trust-fund kid being handed things — his contract, a starting job — he doesn’t deserve, then Quinn also needs to point to the Browns as the irresponsible parent who created that brat. Again: Watson had not played football for two years before the Browns beat back all competitors for his services. Nobody knew how effective he’d be when he returned to the field, nobody forced the Browns to guarantee him more money than any player before him, and nobody can blame Watson for signing on the dotted line to secure his future.
It’s Watson’s fault that the Browns were so desperate to move on from Baker Mayfield that they were willing to anger other owners by offering him the kind of guaranteed contract that had previously been verboten in the NFL. You, me, or Brady Quinn, presented with the same circumstances, would have taken the money and put on an orange and brown jersey just as quickly.
Watson’s no sympathetic figure in all this. He was alleged to have sexually assaulted women — which he’s denied — and faced civil lawsuits from multiple victims.
The Browns, however, apparently can’t figure out whether he’s physically well enough to play from week to week. Either way, Cleveland knew what it was paying a mint for, and it wasn’t a quarterback with a clean sheet and a long history of Super Bowl contention on his resume. They were OK with ponying up, so who am I — and who is Brady Quinn — to complain now that they’re getting their money’s worth?
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