The National Football League and the National Football League Players Association have reached an agreement that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for 11 games and fined $5 million.
While many sportsbooks did not have Cleveland Browns season win totals up as Deshaun Watson’s status was in limbo, FanDuel did have the Browns win total at 8.5 (+125 Over, -145 Under) before the news of Watson’s suspension broke. It has since moved to +135 for Over and -160 for Under but the total remains at 8.5 wins.
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After being accused of sexual harassment or assault by at least 24 women, Watson initially received a recommendation for a six-game suspension from an arbitrator before the NFL appealed that ruling. While waiting for that appeal, the NFL and NFLPA reached a negotiated agreement.
The Watson suspension leaves the Browns with Jacoby Brissett, Joshua Dobbs, and Josh Rosen at quarterback for the first 11 games of the season. If they have serious expectations about making the playoffs this season, then they might need to explore the possibility of adding another quarterback.
If the Browns can’t land another quarterback, that will mean aiming to stay competitive with Brissett starting the first 11 games of the season.
The 29-year-old has started 37 games in his career, going 14-23. He started 30 games for the Indianapolis Colts between 2017 and 2020, five games for the Miami Dolphins last season, and two games for the New England Patriots in 2016.
Brissett is an extremely conservative passer, throwing for more than 300 yards just five times in 37 starts. He has averaged more than 10 yards per attempt just twice.
Compared to Watson’s track record, that would seem like a significant drop in the quality of quarterback play for Cleveland, and the odds are starting to move.
Here is a look at how the Cleveland Browns' odds changed in the aftermath of the latest Deshaun Watson suspension news.
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Presuming that the sportsbooks were already accounting for the possibility of Watson missing the first six games of the season, the next five games would seem to be the main cause for concern.
Starting in Week 7, the Browns will play at Baltimore, at home against Cincinnati, then have a bye week before visiting Miami and Buffalo and returning home against Tampa Bay. That would be a challenging stretch under any circumstances, but it could be devastating if the Browns do not have competent quarterback play.
11 games lands between the initial six-game suspension and a full season which had reportedly been what the NFL had been targeting – and this means that Watson’s first game back will be in Week 13 against his former team, the Houston Texans.
The NFL might care about the optics of potentially handing out a suspension that was considered too light but not to the degree that they would pass up the opportunity to market a game that would see Watson facing his former team.
Watson, 26, is a three-time Pro Bowler who led the league with 4,823 passing yards during the 2020 season when he played for the Texans.
The Cleveland Browns parted ways with three first-round picks, one third-round pick, and two fourth-round picks in exchange for Watson and a sixth-round pick. Cleveland then handed Watson an enormous contract, a five-year deal with $230 million in guaranteed money. That ought to make the $5 million fine little more than an inconvenience.
Subsequently, the Browns traded their previous starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield, to the Carolina Panthers as he was obviously being phased out with the acquisition of Watson.
There has been speculation about the potential availability of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo or Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, a couple of examples of veterans that are not expected to start for their teams this season.
The fact that Watson is going to return this season doesn’t even make Cleveland a great landing spot for quarterbacks that are seeking an opportunity to start, so maybe the Browns will ride with Brissett until Watson's suspension is finished.