Once again, the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns is out of the starting lineup. And there was another shock to the AFC North division battle.
Deshaun Watson will have season-ending surgery on Wednesday to fix a fracture in his throwing shoulder, the Browns confirmed. Watson’s glenoid in his right shoulder was found to be dislocated during an MRI on Monday. Watson required emergency surgery, the team’s physicians concluded, in order to prevent further structural damage.
“I can’t believe it anymore. On Wednesday, Watson said, “I’m still trying to process all the information.” “With the players in this locker room, I still think we can make a run, and I felt like we were turning the corner to do so. All I wanted was to be there, physically. Trying to put everything in my thoughts at the moment is difficult.”
This is Watson’s last season. Cleveland’s season isn’t, however.
On Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS, the Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a crucial AFC North game that might have playoff ramifications.
Analyzing Watson’s injury’s implications for the Browns both this season and going beyond, as well as how it may affect the AFC playoff landscape in its entirety throughout the second half of the season:
With QB, where do the Browns move next?
Reentering the starting lineup for the Browns is youngster Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
While Watson was recovering from a rotator cuff tear, the UCLA product, selected in the fifth round, began Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. In his debut, Thompson-Robinson had difficulty. The Ravens won 28-3 thanks to his 19 of 36 pass completions for 121 yards, three interceptions, and four sacks.
However, Thompson-Robinson was uncertain about his starting position until a few hours before to kickoff. Until a pregame warmup revealed he wouldn’t, Watson had said all week that he would be playing.
Coach Kevin Stefanski of the Browns said, “I want to give him a week where he knows he’s the starter and gets a full week of prep.”
Thompson-Robinson was a star in training camp and Cleveland’s preseason games before the Ravens fiasco. So much so that the Browns felt at ease enough to declare Thompson-Robinson their starting quarterback after Watson and trade away Joshua Dobbs to Arizona (a decision they must now regret, considering how Dobbs has performed for the Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings).
Following the Browns’ defeat to the Ravens, PJ Walker was named the starting quarterback. Walker went 2-1 while Watson was out due to the initial shoulder injury. In the Browns’ victories against the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers, Walker guided the team. However, Walker also threw a game-winning interception late in the game to assist the Seattle Seahawks upset Cleveland.
With a QBR of 26.4, Thompson-Robinson is ranked 42nd, while Walker is ranked 43rd. However, as Thompson-Robinson gains more playing time, the Browns are optimistic that his potential will materialize.
Stefanski said, “He’s very athletic and can make plays.” “He is well knowledgeable about our offensive strategy. He’s a young player who will develop further.”
How does this affect the season for the Browns?
Undoubtedly, Cleveland’s ceiling is lowered.
Watson had just finished what was maybe his greatest game while wearing a Browns jersey. Despite suffering a severe left ankle sprain and a shoulder ailment, he managed to complete all 14 of his throws against the Ravens in the second half. In order to overcome Baltimore 33–31, he also guided the Browns on a winning field goal drive.
Soon after the Ravens victory, Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said of Watson, “Kept on trying to tell y’all once he hits his stride, he’s going to be back to his previous ways.” “We’re just seeing a glimpse into what he can be and who he is.”
The Browns were feeling upbeat. With the Houston Texans in 2020, Watson was starting to find his playing form again, leading the NFL with 4,823 passing yards. His rushing and throwing first-down plays in the fourth quarter against Baltimore were particularly inspiring. The Browns will now have to use a rookie quarterback going forward.
Cleveland’s chances of making the playoffs are not lost despite Watson’s injury. Cleveland boasts one of the top defenses in the NFL under Garrett’s leadership. Due to the injuries that have already claimed the seasons of All-Pro running back Nick Chubb and right tackle Jack Conklin (knee), the Browns offense is also well-versed in dealing with ailments. The 49ers discovered that the Browns are still capable of winning without Watson.
However, Watson’s performance was beginning to make the Browns seem like real Super Bowl contenders. It’s hard to see how that will continue with a rookie quarterback.
What is Watson’s future with the Browns after two consecutive off-seasons?
Watson will be the starting quarterback for the Browns going forward, and there is no other choice.
After being traded to the Browns in March 2022, Watson signed a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract. He is still under contract for three more seasons, having $138 million remaining on it.
In 2024, Watson has a dead cap hit of $200.9 million. In 2025, it will be $139.9 million, and in 2026, it will be $72.9 million.
Put differently, Watson is here to stay.
He will now be recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder, however. Furthermore, he will be returning after missing 39 games in the previous three seasons. Watson refused to play for the Texans in 2021 and sat out the season. Additionally, he was suspended for 11 games in Cleveland last year for breaking the NFL’s personal conduct rules after over two dozen women accused him of sexual assault and misbehavior during massage sessions.
Watson said on Wednesday that he is “very confident” that he can bounce back and return to his former position as quarterback.
It will take Watson considerably longer to reach his destination. Jimmy and Dee Haslam of the Browns have already paid him $92 million, but they haven’t gotten anything in return.
In the offseason, should the Browns think about drafting or signing a quarterback?
It seems quite likely that Watson and Thompson-Robinson will be in the quarterback room for the Browns when the next season begins.
The Browns will probably feel comfortable having Thompson-Robinson as their backup if he performs well. Cleveland will need to look at other QB alternatives in the draft or free agency if he has trouble.
It’s too soon to speculate on the details of that proposal. However, general manager Andrew Berry said on Wednesday that the Browns want to add a third quarterback to the roster soon.
What impact will this have on the AFC playoff picture and the AFC North?
First, let’s discuss the Browns. Although it deals a serious setback to their playoff aspirations, they remain in the race. As a matter of fact, FPI has reduced their odds of admission from 80% to 63%. Despite having a collective QBR of 37 so far this season (Watson had a QBR of 45), Cleveland is now 6-3 and in the No. 6 spot. Only 37 passes have been completed by Thompson-Robinson in the regular season, and his one and only QBR was 26.4. Cleveland can still make the playoffs if he improves and reaches Watson’s caliber, especially with its advantage in the standings and superior defense.
Cleveland’s performance in the playoffs is where this truly impacts their forecasts. Before Watson’s injury, FPI gave the Browns a 15% chance to make it to the AFC Championship Game; that number is now down to 6%. Their chances of making it to and winning the Super Bowl have taken even more damage.
The Steelers, Bengals, and Texans—all of which have between a 30% and a 60% chance of making the playoffs and all face the Browns before the season ends—are perhaps the greatest beneficiaries here. Not only do they have an easier game coming up, but Cleveland’s threat to win the division or earn a wild card is also diminished. It’s just a few points for each in terms of playoff percentages, but every little boost counts. The Browns were the greatest danger in the AFC North, and the Ravens are also winners: their postseason berth is almost certain, but the division isn’t. No longer: Baltimore (56%, up from 50%) now has the second-highest probability to win the division (19%), after the Steelers (19%). — Walder Seth