Browns Urged to Deal for $26 Million QB as Alternative to Watson

The Cleveland Browns are tethered to quarterback Deshaun Watson in 2024, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have competition for the starting job if his struggles continue.


Seth Walder of ESPN Analytics on February 27 took a crack at predicting the opening day starter for all 32 NFL teams. Choosing Watson to begin the year as QB1 for the Browns didn’t require any predictive analysis, as head coach Kevin Stefanski said pretty much right after Cleveland’s playoff run ended that Watson was the starter heading into the offseason. However, Walder added a caveat, doubling down on a take from earlier in the month that the Browns should — and perhaps will — attempt to trade for Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields.


Because he’s in Year 3 of his fully guaranteed, $230 million contract, Watson will almost certainly be the Browns’ quarterback. But if I were Cleveland, am I really running it back with Watson and potentially wasting this roster again?


The problem is the Browns’ alternatives are severely limited given Watson’s cap number and their lack of a first-round pick, which they dealt to Houston to obtain Watson. I could at least imagine the Browns as a long shot Justin Fields destination because he can be acquired without a first-round pick and wouldn’t take up significant salary-cap space. Who knows, perhaps coach Kevin Stefanski could unlock his upside?



Fields isn’t a cheap option for the Browns as a backup/replacement plan for Watson, but he wouldn’t be incredibly expensive either.


The 24-year-old will play the final year $18.9 million rookie deal in 2024 with a cap hit of roughly $6 million. As a former first-round pick (No. 11 overall in 2021), Fields carries a fifth-year team option for the Bears, or any team that trades for him this spring. The cost of that season (2025) will be $25.7 million.


Spotrac projects Fields’ current market value at $283 million total over a new six-year deal, but that won’t come down for two more seasons. Watson carries a $64 million cap hit in each of the next three seasons, which means the next two years of Fields would cost Cleveland approximately half of what Watson’s price in 2024 alone.



Of course, that is a still a major investment at the position considering how much the Browns are already spending on their starting QB. However, Watson has started exactly 12 of a possible 34 regular-season games since coming to Cleveland, which makes him one of the least reliable bets in the NFL to be on the field consistently in 2024.


The Browns started Jacoby Brissett 11 times in 2022, while Watson watched from the sideline due to a suspension for violating the league’s player code of conduct. Four other quarterbacks started games for Cleveland in 2023, as Watson as in and out of the lineup due to injury before shoulder surgery in November ended his season.


Among those four was Joe Flacco, who was by far the most successful with a 4-1 record as a starter and an average well north of 300 yards passing per game. However, Flacco is far from a guarantee to return to the Browns next season, as he has trumpeted his intentions to play two more seasons and will presumably seek a home where he has at least the chance to start Week 1.



Given all the factors and the fact that he will probably cost just a second-round pick to acquire, Fields makes reasonable sense for a Browns team that has broken the bank over the last couple years to build a win-now roster.



Gideon Canice

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