Browns dead in the water with Watson injury – through fault of their own

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

For the love of Otto Graham.

If you’re not familiar with “Automatic Otto,” the Hall of Fame quarterback led the Cleveland Browns to seven of their eight championships (four in the old AAFC from 1946 to ’49) and didn’t fail to reach the championship game in any of his 10 professional seasons split between the AAFC and NFL.

If only they had him now.

Wednesday morning dawned with the news that current Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is out for the season after an MRI revealed a displaced fracture to the glenoid of his already banged-up throwing shoulder. He also suffered a high ankle sprain in what seemed like a landmark 33-31 win Sunday over the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens.

“Despite performing at a high level and finishing the game,” the Browns said in a statement, “it has been determined that this injury will require immediate surgical repair to avoid further structural damage. Deshaun will be placed on season-ending injured reserve and a full recovery is expected for the start of the 2024 season.”

NFL STATS CENTRAL: The latest NFL scores, schedules, odds, stats and more.


So much for any hopes Cleveland fans may have harbored that their team was positioned to reach the Super Bowl, the Browns one of four NFL teams that has never reached Super Sunday. Despite a 6-3 record that matched Cleveland’s best since the franchise was relaunched in 1999, this squad is now basically dead in the water – through massive fault of its own.

Say what you want about Watson and the folly of the five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract owner Jimmy Haslam awarded to a person many fans emphatically didn’t want as the face of their franchise given his sordid history in Houston. Yet Watson’s uneven play in 2022 once he returned from his 11-game suspension should have been a sufficient red flag to have a quality arm in the bullpen.

Ironically, the Browns seemed to understand this perfectly well.

You’re probably familiar with one Joshua Dobbs – the “Passtronaut” – who remains an NFL vagabond, but one who’s made a case he’s worth, say, a three-year, $40 million investment to get a shot somewhere as QB1. ICYMI, the seventh-year vet nearly led the Tennessee Titans to the AFC South crown at the end of the 2022 season while making his first NFL starts. This year, Dobbs turned the Arizona Cardinals from perceived tomato cans into a scrappy club that would fight you tooth and nail during Kyler Murray’s ACL recovery – just ask the Dallas Cowboys, who were trucked 28-16 by Dobbs and Co. in Week 3. Now, of course, Dobbs – dealt by the Cardinals at the trade deadline – has given new life to the surging Minnesota Vikings in the aftermath of Kirk Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury.

Yet it was the Browns who signed Dobbs to a one-year, $2 million contract in March. Five months later, they sent him to Arizona – basically for a fifth-round pick – after falling in love with rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson during preseason.

And here we are.

“DTR” was so dreadful in his only starting opportunity, a three-interception performance in a 28-3 loss to the Ravens in Week 4, that Cleveland immediately pivoted to journeyman P.J. Walker as QB2. He’s only been marginally better than Thompson-Robinson. The Browns are 1-2 in games not started by Watson, and – despite his physical limitations this season – 5-1 when he’s in the starting lineup. That’s largely a testament to the NFL’s top-ranked defense, the primary reason for Cleveland’s ascent, even during a campaign when Pro Bowl tailback Nick Chubb was lost to season-ending knee injury in Week 2. And Myles Garrett and his band of disruptors may yet be nasty enough to carry the rest of this roster into postseason. Maybe.

But just imagine if Dobbs had remained as the Plan B QB. Or what if the Browns, who knew how limited Watson has been, had beaten the Los Angeles Rams to Carson Wentz? Or what if they’d even asked the Houston Texans about third-string quarterback Case Keenum, who drove Minnesota to the 2017 NFC championship game with current Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski as his quarterbacks coach?

Hindsight unfailingly brings clarity, yet anyone could see the risk the Browns had invited before Wednesday’s Watson announcement. And while a new front office is in place, this is the same organization that whiffed on Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield – kinda – and so many others over the past quarter-century. Now Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry are left to pick up the pieces, perhaps making calls to the likes of ex-Brown Colt McCoy, or Joe Flacco, or Chase Daniel, or even taking the temperature of not-officially-retired-CBS-analyst Matt Ryan – not that those guys are legitimate saviors for the ’23 Browns.

Shame. Didn’t have to be this way.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY