The NFL world smelled blood in the water on Thursday when the Browns postponed their scheduled media availability.
And given how this offseason has gone, the postponement likely meant one thing.
An update on Deshaun Watson.
Watson’s six-game suspension from NFL Disciplinary Officer Sue Robinson had been under appeal by the league since the ban was handed down a few weeks ago.
But the NFL and Watson were constantly negotiating a settlement lighter than the league’s preferred season ban and a substantial fine.
Any settlement likely would mean Watson would see the field this season, as his camp was never going to agree to a full season out.
In the end, it was a settlement that prevailed.
And, to paraphrase Tyrion Lannister ahead of the House of the Dragon pilot on Sunday, a successful compromise means no one is very happy.
And let’s run down the checklist here to see if that holds true here.
First, the league.
Yeah, they’re likely very unhappy.
The league was pushing for a full season suspension, in part to set a new precedence for serious misconduct like this.
But the league was also, in a backward way, incentivized to end the Watson situation; the longer they dragged their feet on it, the worse it was for their bottom line.
And so that’s how we get the league ultimately caving to an 11-game suspension and $5 million fine.
What about Watson?
He and his team are probably over the moon with this settlement.
11 games are a steep penalty and $5 million is no joke.
But let’s also remember that the Browns paid Watson $230 million guaranteed over the next five years.
So he’ll be just fine.
Fans, on the other hand?
Mostly apoplectic about the settlement, taking aim at the league for not agreeing to or holding out for a stiffer penalty:
NFL suspends Watson 11 games, reinstates him just in time for a return to Houston.
This game will be flexed into prime time.
The league is so transparent. https://t.co/7LqYpvgKhG
— bartleby (@ElderBartleby) August 19, 2022
Wow but in a bad way https://t.co/WyR4ab4CmS
— Suffering Baseball Fan (@dustitoff84) August 19, 2022
So his $230 guaranteed deal is down to $225 million minus 11 game checks this year. And he got his full salary last year for not playing. At least he didn't do something terrible like taking a knee. https://t.co/vl9TQZLCDD
— Vito Stellino (@vitostellino) August 18, 2022
The #Browns gave up massive draft capital & stupid money to add Deshaun Watson.
They also lost integrity, respect & fans.
In return, they get to try to convince themselves into cheering for Watson.
By the way… he'll go nearly two full years between games.
Dumpster fire. https://t.co/XKaLeiYtwE
— Matt Wise (@TheMattWise) August 18, 2022
Watson set to return vs Houston. A coincidence, I’m sure. 😉 https://t.co/CnTncPqXyp
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 18, 2022
ok but if calvin ridley is suspended for a full season for betting on games how does this make sense https://t.co/HDRb60ycyh
— KT (@kt_marieee13) August 18, 2022
blatantly suspended him this amount of games so they could get a ratings boost in his return to Houston, borders on WWE levels of scripting and disregard for basic human decency https://t.co/abx18q1R83
— ⚔ (@BrosephSZN) August 18, 2022
Read another way, Watson will miss 11 games, and his new contract guarantees gained during this ordeal drop from $230 million all the way down to <checks notes> $225 million. https://t.co/tt4nXsf3zx
— Matt Chatham (@chatham58) August 18, 2022
Browns fans and Watson should count themselves pretty lucky with this outcome. The suspension didn't go past this season and it only cost him $5 mil. That's light. https://t.co/SdO1qO2Jul
— Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) August 18, 2022
As you might have gleaned from the tweets, Watson will be eligible to return in Week 13 against the Houston Texans.
It’s a storyline bordering on the Shakespearean.
Back when Watson was suspended for just six games, the conventional thinking went that the Browns would be easily able to survive.
After all, the team starts the season against the Panthers, Jets, and Falcons.
Those three teams will likely be selecting in the top-10 of next year’s draft.
But after those first six games, things get significantly harder.
In addition to the Chargers in Week 5, the Browns face the Ravens, Dolphins, Bengals, Bills, and Buccaneers before Watson’s return against the Texans.
The Bills are a legitimate Super Bowl threat, as are the Tampa Bay Buccanneers and Cincinnati Bengals, who went to the big game last year.
Baltimore is an-ever formidable foe, led by Lamar Jackson and a stellar defense.
Even the Dolphins, who are likely the easiest opponent of the bunch, project to be improved.
The team added Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill this offseason.
Perhaps that’s the Browns’ ultimate punishment.
That they could start out hot under Jacoby Brissett, only to falter to the real deal contenders in the season’s center.