Browns the epitome of hypocrisy with pursuit of Texans' Deshaun Watson

Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal

Browns co-owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam are considering selling their souls for a Super Bowl.

In exploring a trade for the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson by meeting with the quarterback on Tuesday, the Browns are making the franchise the NFL epitome of hypocrisy.

Not that they are alone.

Watson is subject to a league suspension and facing 22 civil suits from massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct or sexual assault. That goes against everything the Browns have tried to build under General Manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski.

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The Browns have espoused diversity, inclusion, character and accountability. They have emphasized education.

Apparently educating men on the respectful treatment of women is not part of the curriculum.

It's possible Watson will be absolved as innocent. The civil suits may prove fruitless.

But at the moment, the Browns look prepared to make Watson a football hero like every other Cleveland quarterback and punt on what looks like his flawed character, believing like so many others in the NFL they can fix him.

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They move forward in their pursuit of Watson even though since the allegations surfaced he has publicly shown no hint of accountability.

Should they like what they hear from Watson, the Browns must still convince him to waive his no-trade clause. The Browns would have to mortgage their future, with the Texans’ asking price currently three first-round picks and additional assets. They would have to trade quarterback Baker Mayfield, perhaps even without assurances that the NFL will not suspend Watson for all or part of 2022.

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I am on record as saying the Browns should have selected Clemson’s Watson with the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. I overlooked his 32 career interceptions because of his dedication. At his interview before Clemson’s 2016 BCS semifinal game against Ohio State, I was impressed that he graduated in three years, taking 19 hours in the fall of 2015 during the Tigers' run to the championship game. I thought that was an indication of the work ethic required at the professional level.

I believe in second chances. But I have to side with 22 women now — even if the Browns won’t.

Watson escaped criminal charges last week, but 22 women didn’t collude and come up with the same story.

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In 2017, then-EVP of football operations Sashi Brown chose defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick and traded the Browns’ second first-rounder, 12th overall, to the Texans for two firsts. That enabled the Texans to grab Watson.

With the picks received from the Texans, the Browns selected safety Jabrill Peppers, later traded to the New York Giants in the Odell Beckham Jr. deal, and cornerback Denzel Ward, taken fourth overall in 2018. Brown’s successor, former General Manager John Dorsey, grabbed Mayfield first overall in 2018.

The Browns' apparent pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson seems to go against all of the values General Manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski have established for the franchise.

Perhaps there were questions about Watson in 2017. Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta joined the Browns in January 2016 and was part of the pre-draft process. So, too, was Berry, then vice president of player personnel.

But the Browns find themselves stuck in the netherworld now. Good enough not to pick in the top 10, average enough that their franchise quarterback is not coming through the draft, barring another shot-in-the-dark Tom Brady-like miracle.

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Last season, Mayfield tried to play through a torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder suffered in Week 2 and it backfired. With his poor performance, he looked nothing like the leader who took the Browns to their first playoff game in 18 years in 2020 and helped record the first postseason victory since Jan. 1, 1995.

Mayfield looked more like he was ready to join the parade of backup-at-best quarterbacks the Browns have selected over the years than a player worth a blockbuster contract extension.

That said, Watson has a 28-25 regular-season record as a starter in his four seasons. Mayfield is 29-30. Watson, only one inch taller than Mayfield, is an upgrade in terms of his arm and physical skills.

Pursuing Watson makes sense only on a football level. Until he's cleared of wrongdoing, he doesn't look like the kind of leader long-suffering Browns fans deserve, at least those who aren’t willing to look the other way.

During Super Bowl week, the Browns received the inaugural "John B. Wooten Award," given by the Fritz Pollard Alliance to NFL teams that embody workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Browns seemingly put those values above all else, pushing for opportunities for minorities and women. But in meeting with Watson with no certainty of where the civil suits will lead, the Haslams are showing what they value most —the financial windfall of a possible Super Bowl run.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.