Those in the karma police crowd surely had a smile of satisfaction on their faces this week at the news of Deshaun Watson being lost for the rest of the 2023 season with an injury to his throwing shoulder.
There are many who believe Watson, accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during private massage sessions (many of those cases have been settled financially by Watson), shouldn’t be allowed to play at all.
Well, those in the anti-Watson camp got their wish — at least for the rest of 2023.
Lost in this mess, though, is the fact the Browns looked like they had a legitimate chance to be a title contender in the AFC this season and now their chances of getting to the playoffs and going deep have been dealt a damaging blow.
It’s difficult not to feel for the fans of the Browns, who’ve enjoyed only one playoff appearance and one postseason win in the past 21 seasons. No fan base — not even that of the Jets — is as starved for some morsels of success as those in Cleveland.
Even the Watson haters have to have some compassion for the Cleveland fans who must feel completely snake-bitten.
This is a team with a potential championship defense that already lost star running back Nick Chubb, the engine of its offense, and right tackle Jack Conklin to season-ending knee injuries this season.
And now this.
“I’m still in disbelief,’’ Watson told reporters this week when his diagnosis was official. “I felt like we were turning a corner to really make a run and still believe we still will with the guys in this locker room. I just wanted to physically be a part of it. It’s tough to try to wrap everything around my head right now.”
If the Browns, 6-3 entering Sunday’s home game against the 6-3 Steelers, are going to win they’re going to have to do it with rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA who started Week 4 against the Ravens while Watson was dealing with a rotator cuff strain.
Thompson-Robinson completed just 19 of 36 passes for 121 yards with three INTs and four sacks that game in a 28-3 loss to Baltimore.
The Browns felt good enough about Thompson-Robinson in training camp that they traded away Joshua Dobbs, who’s now become a savior in Minnesota with Kirk Cousins having been lost for the season with a torn Achilles. That decision now looks dubious.
“He’s very athletic, he can make plays,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said of his rookie. “He has a very good understanding of what we do in our offense. He’s a young player that will continue to get better.”
Yes, but in time for the Browns to take advantage of their stout defense and make something of this season?
The Browns, after making that controversially-large financial investment in Watson ($230 million guaranteed), were just beginning to believe he was back to being the quarterback whose 4,823 passing yards led the NFL in 2020.
In the Browns’ 33-31 comeback win over the Ravens last week, Watson looked the best he has in a Cleveland uniform despite dealing with shoulder and ankle issues, completing all 14 of his passes in the second half.
“Kept on trying to tell y’all once he hits his stride, he’s going to be back to his previous ways,” Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said of Watson after the win over the Ravens. “We’re just seeing a glimpse into what he can be and who he is.”
Now Garrett, the Browns and their poor fans will have to wait till 2024 for more of that.
Watson’s past four years seem as star-crossed as the Browns’ sordid franchise history. After three-and-a-half remarkable seasons with the Texans (104 TD passes to 36 INTs), he sat out the 2021 season tying to pout his way out of Houston (which finally worked).
Cleveland has already paid Watson $92 million of that $230 guaranteed and he’s played in only 12 games, with an 8-4 record (5-1 this season). Watson has three more years and $138 million still to be paid. For the sake of the success-starved Browns fans, hopefully they get a hell of a lot more bang for their buck in the next three seasons than they’ve gotten to date.
Even if Watson doesn’t, they deserve it.