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On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns insisted in several statements from owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski that they did “extensive” research into quarterback Deshaun Watson before signing him to a stunning fully guaranteed contract.
That “extensive” research wasn’t limited to whether Watson can complete deep sideline passes or show awareness in the pocket, but was a “comprehensive evaluation process … due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved,” the Haslams said, obviously referring to the 22 civil lawsuits the quarterback faces that allege sexual misconduct of one form or another.
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Except, well, the “extensive” research had a significant limit.
“The Browns organization did not reach out to me,” attorney Tony Buzbee told John Barry of ESPN. “I didn’t expect them to do so, and can understand why they didn’t. But, knowing what I know, they probably should have.”
So much for “extensive” research.
And so much for letting “extensive” research affect their wallet because the $230 million contract Cleveland gave Watson is fully guaranteed, per an NFLPA source.
And not just fully guaranteed but also fully shielded from voiding, regardless of the outcome of the current allegations or future allegations stemming from this legal matter.
Even if Watson is suspended by the NFL, a distinct possibility as reported by OutKick on Friday, he still gets every single dollar in the contract.
And why is this possible, despite the mitigating circumstances? Why the full on dive into the lap of a player who, in his own words, has to build his name back?
Because he’s an elite quarterback.
And in the AFC, there are two types of teams:
Those who have elite quarterbacks and therefore have a chance to win a championship.
And those who don’t.
And the Browns were clearly desperate not to be among the ones who don’t.
For the sake of full accounting, let’s review the list of haves and have nots.
The haves: the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos.
These teams, like it or not, agree or not, have a proven elite quarterback. Those elite quarterbacks have shown on the field they can do amazing things. They have lifted their team, made players around them better, and overcome flaws on their roster.
The haves are Josh Allen in Buffalo, Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, Justin Herbert with the Los Angeles Chargers, Russell Wilson in Denver and now Watson in Cleveland.
End of elite quarterbacks in the AFC.
Because of those six players, their teams expect to be in the playoffs in 2022. And, according to the OutKick in-house super computer, that would leave only one playoff spot for the remaining 10 teams to battle over as their quarterbacks either become elite guys. Or don’t.
This is the part of this column where you learn that not all have nots are equal — because the fact is, some have nots might develop into being elite. They’re young and new and fresh enough that their teams have hope they become great.
And then there are the have nots that are simply, well, have nots with little hope of ever becoming a have.
The truth is the AFC is replete with young, talented quarterbacks on which their clubs have pinned hopes for greatness.
No, those youngsters haven’t developed. But they might. And so those have nots might blossom and join the list of haves.
Those are New England’s Mac Jones, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, New York’s Zach Wilson, Pittsburgh’s Mitchell Trubisky, Houston’s Davis Mills, Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, and Derek Carr out in Las Vegas.
Carr, 30, is older than those others, which suggests his time to blossom into an elite quarterback has come and gone. But the truth is he was on that path his second and third seasons, and then the Raiders got sideways with failed coaching hires, some poor personnel decisions, the move from California and last year’s drama-filled season.
It’s still possible Carr rises to the level Wilson and even Watson have shown.
The same is true for Lamar Jackson, who is dynamic although not elite in the typical sense. His 2021 season was derailed by injury and he’s got to pick up where he left off in 2019, which the Ravens believe he’s going to do as they’re going to pay him like it soon.
And then we have the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts don’t have an elite starting quarterback because they don’t have any starting quarterback on the roster currently. There’s a chance they might trade for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo, in which case they still won’t have an elite quarterback.
Finally, the Titans are interesting because they have Ryan Tannehill, the most proven quarterback in the AFC South. Proven is tricky because all it means in this case is Tannehill has shown what he is while Lawrence and Mills are still developing into whatever they’re going to be and the Colts, again, have no one.
Tannehill is solid. He’s generally good enough to win a lot of regular-season games when surrounded by a very strong team, as the Titans have put together. But elite?
Never been. He wasn’t in Miami when his supporting cast was not good, and he hasn’t been in Tennessee with a fine supporting cast.
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So the Titans and Colts are now like the Cleveland Browns — except the Browns have just added Deshaun Watson.
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