In 2022, the Cleveland Browns sent three first-round picks, a third-round pick, and two fourth-round picks to the Houston Texans to acquire quarterback Deshaun Watson, whom they promptly rewarded with a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million deal. Not only that, the franchise stood by him during accusation after accusation and lawsuit after lawsuit. (Watson has denied the claims.)
On Monday night, Watson repaid his team by starting the game with a pick-6, notching two facemask penalties, and shoving a referee.
Sorry, that’s incorrect. After all, Watson assured the media after the game, “There was no contact with the ref.” My mistake, the contact was with the umpire; the ref was just the guy he was screaming at. That’s the kind of legal nuance you pick up on when you’ve had to settle 30 lawsuits with women accusing you of everything from forced groping to forced oral sex.
And it’s not like Watson is a great guy off the field, so you understand why the team sticks with him. Not only has he refused to take accountability for any of the accusations leveled against him, inadvertently convincing a large number of young men (and a few women) that yes, it’s probable that 30 women conspired to make up allegations just for the money, but he’s so delusional about his image that he actually has “Marketing Inquiries Contact: @BryanBurney7” in his Xwitter bio.
Then there was Watson’s pre-season press conference back in July, in which he blamed the media for his bad reputation, telling the reporters in the room, “Especially last year, it’s been the media directing and narrating something else. [My story] has been kind of overshadowed.” I’ll bet it was. Dozens of women publicly accusing you of predatory sexual behavior will do that. What was the media supposed to “direct the narrative” to? You didn’t play for 11 freakin’ games.
Not only does Watson lack self-awareness, but he also seems to lack the ability to regulate his emotions when things aren’t going his way. See, e.g. the multiple facemask penalties he incurred on Monday night here:
Let me ask you this: When was the last time you saw a quarterback get a facemask penalty? Have you ever seen one get two in one game? You have not. Not grabbing an opponent’s face mask might be the first thing kids playing youth football learn, right after how to line up at the line of scrimmage. And it’s not like these face mask penalties were nebulous or there was a bad angle or Watson was giving as good as he got. They are right there on camera. So what did Watson have to say about tallying two personal fouls for these extremely obvious face mask penalties?
“As far as the facemask and things like that, I’m stiff-arming just like everyone else,” Watson said after the game.
Gaslighting has worked for Watson before, if you notice the large number of fans who still insist he’s the victim of a vast conspiracy to bring down his good name and win a lifelong fortune in the process. So why not try it again? Sure, you can see him grabbing a face mask plain as the nose on your face, but maybe you didn’t actually see it? As Gretchen Weiners so wisely told us, you might think you saw something with your own eyes, but you could be wrong. Those weren’t face masks, they were good old-fashioned stiff arms.
It’s still early in the season, and Watson could of course turn things around, but you have to wonder if, knowing everything they know now, would the Browns still trade for Watson back in the Spring of 2022. I’m not naive enough to think that a player’s alleged off-the-field sexual misconduct would be enough to turn a team off for good, but this is the NFL we’re talking about.
In the course of two seasons, the Browns have managed to be a harmless little team that could, the team everyone was rooting for, to the team everyone roots against, with a reputation slightly north of Vladamir Putin. They’re stuck with a QB who seems to be devolving before our very eyes on the field, can’t admit mistakes on or off the field, and puts his foot in it any time you let him near a microphone. Meanwhile, you just lost your top running back and had to resort to bringing back Kareem Hunt, who rushed for a grand total of 468 yards in 17 games last season. That’s 27 yards a game — a paltry replacement for Nick Chubb, who rushed for over 1,500 yards in 2022. (Let’s not forget that the Kansas City Chiefs cut Hunt back in 2018 after video surfaced of him attacking a woman.)
You have to believe that, whatever Cleveland thought they were getting in Deshaun Watson, it wasn’t this.
To paraphrase Dr. Maya Angelou, when someone shows you who they are, on or off the field, believe them.