Both Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield are in limbo
When the Browns worked out a trade with the Houston Texans for Deshaun Watson back in March, they agreed to stay out of the legal wrangling regarding Watson’s pending lawsuits alleging sexual abuse and assault cases.
And the front office assumed that Watson would receive some sort of suspension to be served this year. They even situated his 2022 salary at $1.35 million to accommodate this possibility. Numbers were being thrown around as a six game suspension, maybe eight, and in either scenario that number might be cut down to four.
What the Browns did not expect, however, is that their new signalcaller may not play at all this season. Now that the NFL has concluded their internal investigation regarding the player personal conduct policy, reports are rampant that when the smoke has cleared from this bonfire, Watson may not see the field at all this season.
And while the idea that the $230 million man may not play this year, the other bad news is that incumbent Baker Mayfield might just refuse to play in his stead.
Mayfield is slated to make $18.838 million this year which is guaranteed. However, he will only get paid as long as he shows up for practices and actually suits up for games.
So far this off-season, Mayfield has not shown up for any of the OTA’s and was excused from the recent mandatory minicamp despite still on the roster.
“We felt like that was the best decision for both sides,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said, declining to discuss further his communication with Mayfield.
In the event Watson is indeed suspended for the entire 2022 season, it just seems logical that Mayfield would become the starting quarterback once again.
But these are not logical times for Cleveland.
Since the Browns still have Mayfield on the roster and he remains an NFL starting-caliber quarterback, Stefanski would make an easy choice of inserting Mayfield into the starting role. The franchise could have traded him several times, but have not yet pulled the trigger on a trade to another NFL club. Maybe it is because they feel they might need him to perform on the field this year for whatever amount of games Watson is facing suspension.
And that scenario would appear on the surface to allow Mayfield the ability to prove his detractors wrong that he is indeed a high-level QB who should be starting on somebody’s team next year. Perhaps a stellar year would increase his value and become the target of a trade whether it is before this year’s trade deadline or during the off-season.
Otherwise, Mayfield won’t be paid anything if he sits home and refuses to report. What would follow after a full year of hibernation would most likely be a one-year prove-it deal or being signed as somebody’s backup.
Mayfield has come out publicly and stated he is not going to play again for Cleveland.
But in all honesty, does anyone actually believe if Watson was suspended for the entire year that Mayfield would ride up on his white horse to save the season for the Browns? Isn’t the more likely premise that Mayfield has played his last game in orange and brown?
To be factual, Watson’s looming suspension has nothing to do with whether Mayfield will play this year or not. He was probably done with the franchise when his coach, GM and owner flew down to Houston and courted Watson. And these men knew it would alienate Mayfield. Perhaps that is why they were so vehement on getting Watson despite his pending lawsuits. They were basically stuck and had to go for broke.
So, this may play out that Watson is gone for the entire season, and Mayfield refuses to play. Cricky.
That only leaves one option: Jacoby Brissett is the Browns new starting quarterback. Talk about headlines.
Brissett (6’-4”, 235 pounds) was inked during the off-season on a one-year deal worth $4.65 million because his skill set is similar to Watson’s. If Stefanski was going to have to change some things with his offense to a greater extent a mobile quarterback who is more accurate in his throws, then if he was gone for six games it just made sense to bring in a temporary stop-gap player that will run this new offense just like Watson would.
That is the reason the Browns shipped off backup QB Casey Keenum. Both Mayfield and Keenum are pocket passers. It made minimal sense to have Keenum run this new offense from a pocket perspective, then hand the keys to Watson with a new scheme while a portion of the season has gone. The plan was to implement the changes and have it transfer from Brissett to Watson seamlessly.
Brissett was asked about the possibility of him being the Browns starter in Week 1 during the voluntary workout program:
“I wouldn’t be in the position that I am in today if I worried about things like that. I’ve always prepared myself like a starter. I carry myself like a starter because when those opportunities present themselves, I want to show that I am that.”
And with the preparation of Brissett being the starter for a portion of the season, this has meant he has gotten plenty of snaps with the starting offensive unit. Apparently, Brissett is the right character in the QB room to move into Watson’s space and perform.
Coach Stefanski believes that Brissett is the answer in Watson’s place as he told the Akron Beacon Journal during minicamp:
“I do have confidence in Jacoby. He has played a lot of football for a young player. He is a smart player. He takes care of the football. Good size, can make all of the throws and those type of things. He has been in multiple offenses. Our offense is a little bit different than what he has done previously. He has a really, really good understanding of football — football intelligence that is — so I just think he is a really good operator.”
Brissett came to the Browns after one year with Miami with stints previously with Indianapolis and New England. In the event he is indeed Cleveland’s starter, journeyman Josh Dobbs (6’-3”, 216 pounds) would become his backup. All three quarterbacks are new to the franchise.
Who is Jacoby Brissett?
Brissett grew up in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida where he attended Dwyer High School. He played football but was a basketball star as a four-year starter for the varsity. He averaged 15.4 points a game, 6.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Football was his Plan B.
He was the quarterback for Dwyer’s state title season in his junior year, but his first love was basketball. The basketball squad won the state title in his senior year. He was named Palm Beach County Player of the Year in both sports as a senior, a rare accomplishment. Brissett also played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
With basketball, Brissett had offers from Xavier, Miami and South Carolina. His football offers were from LSU, Florida, Miami, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Washington, Florida State, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
He was rated a four-star recruit in football and ranked #99 nationwide by 247Sports.com. In February of 2011, he signed a letter of intent to attend Florida. Brissett started two games as a freshman in place of their injured starter, then was the opening day starter his sophomore year. However, he was benched for the remainder of the season with just five appearances.
Brissett transferred to North Carolina State in 2013 where he started the 2014 and 2015 seasons. His stats at NC State include 458 completions on 765 attempts for 5,268 yards, 43 touchdowns with 11 interceptions with an average QB rating of 133.5. He also had 899 rushing yards on 263 carries with nine touchdowns.
The New England Patriots selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft. As a rookie he started two games but a thumb injury required surgery which landed him on IR. He was later activated and was a member of Super Bowl LI champions.
In September of the following season, Brissett was traded to the Indianapolis Colts when starter Andrew Luck suffered an injury. He played four seasons with the Colts with 30 starts in 46 games. His starting record was 11-19-0. Stats include 552-928 for 6,059 yards, 31 TD passes, 13 interceptions, 84.2 QB rating, 500 rushing yards on 143 carries with 11 rushing touchdowns.
“He’s had some interesting experiences in his young career — just through New England and what happened in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck retiring,” Coach Stefanski told Yahoo! Sports. “So he certainly has had an action-packed or ton of experiences packed into that short career.”
Brissett reunited with coach Brian Flores when he signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins for 2021. There he started five games due to injuries to starter Tua Tagovailoa.
On March 25, he signed a one-year deal with the Browns, one day after Cleveland announced the trade with Houston for Watson.
In his six-year career, Brissett has 37 NFL starts.
So far, Brissett has taken about 30% of first team snaps while Watson has gotten most of the work.
That may soon change.