Deshaun Watson will undergo shoulder surgery, thus ending his regular season. Watson was 5-1 on the season when healthy, but never looked 100 percent. Doctors recommended he go under the knife, as another hit to the same area could have a serious impact on his playing future.
So, Watson is lost for the year. In his place, rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson will get the start. P.J. Walker is expected to back up DTR, which is a rather surprising decision given Walker defeated the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season. Kevin Stefanski believes DTR gives his team a better chance against the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.
"You have to win," Thompson-Robinson said. "It's a must-win game. Not only just for this week but for our future, what we're trying to get to and the goals we're trying to get to. So it's a big game. At the end of the day, if I go out there and follow my rules, I'll be all right."
No pressure, kid.
While DTR could perform well and prove us all wrong, the Steelers defense tends to feast on rookie QBs not named CJ Stroud. Only time will tell. However, should the Browns falter down the stretch without Watson, they'll be kicking themselves for these three moves.
Browns really should have kept Jacoby Brissett around
Jacoby Brissett signed an $8 million deal to back up Sam Howell with the Washington Commanders this season. While that is an expensive price for a backup quarterback, one look at the Browns roster shows how important it is to have a QB the coaching staff believed in behind Watson.
When Watson was suspended in 2022, Brissett took over, looking remarkably capable in Kevin Stefanski's offense. With Washington, he's taken Howell under his wing in Eric Bieniemy's system. It was a smart move for Brissett, who could earn a starting opportunity again some day. Had Howell faltered, Brissett would've been the first line of defense to an all-out rebuild Ron Rivera cannot afford.
Just prior to the trade deadline, Jason Lloyd of The Athletic called upon Cleveland to bring back Brissett, as Watson had just injured his shoulder against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I can’t believe I just typed that, but it’s actually the best path out of a terrible predicament. Brissett knows Stefanski’s offense better than anyone available and only left town because of money," Lloyd said. "Reacquiring Brissett now would only cost the Browns the prorated portion of his $3 million base salary — roughly $2 million."
Yet, the Browns stuck with Walker and DTR. Perhaps they'll be proven right with time, but a different backup plan could have helped matters.
Before the season, Baker Mayfield was available for the Browns
Yes, Baker Mayfield wanted a starting opportunity, especially after he out-performed expectations with Sean McVay's Los Angeles Rams to end the 2022 season. Mayfield would sign with the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and beat out Kyle Trask in training camp.
A return to Cleveland was never really on the table for multiple reasons. First, the Browns insulted Mayfield on his way out of town, with the front office saying they were ready for "an adult in the room." Baker isn't a QB guru by any means, but he's not a bad option especially as a backup. Also, he's handled himself with class since his NFL arrival, which is far more than Watson can say.
Mayfield has played above his asking price in Tampa Bay. Scheduled to be a free agent again this offseason, Baker has taken on the role of a journeyman starter. He can exceed in most systems if given the chance, and the Bucs have a number of capable wide receivers remaining, most of whom were intended to help Tom Brady. If the Buccaneers want Mayfield back, he'll take it.
Frankly, it's the Browns loss.
Trading Josh Dobbs is a bad look for the Browns
The Cleveland Browns traded Josh Dobbs to the Arizona Cardinals for a fifth-round pick back in August. At the time, few of us thought much of it -- but we weren't in camp with Dobbs on a regular basis. Clearly, there was some sort of miscommunication.
Dobbs played fairly well with the Arizona Cardinals, but with the return of Kyler Murray then around the corner, he became expendable. Dobbs was traded to the Minnesota Vikings prior to the trade deadline after the injury suffered by Kirk Cousins. Since his arrival, he has led Minnesota to two victories despite not knowing most of Kevin O'Connell's playbook.
That's the true art of a perennial NFL backup. Having played on so many teams, Dobbs is used to learning on the fly and relying on his athleticism. He did just that with the Vikings, and now on a team that is finally willing to build around his talent (at least for the remainder of the season), Dobbs is playing better than anyone would've expected.
As the Browns decided between DTR and Walker, I wonder if any part of Stefanski wondered 'what if?' Dobbs is the most obvious mishap on this list.