PFN Roundtable: Impact of Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson’s suspension

With Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson expected to serve a six-game suspension in 2022, our group of PFN Roundtable analysts discuss what impact it will have.

Deshaun Watson will not play in the first six games of his tenure with the Cleveland Browns. On Monday, Aug. 1, Watson was suspended by the NFL and NFLPA’s jointly appointed disciplinary officer, Sue Robinson.

Watson, who was traded from the Houston Texans to the Browns in March, could miss even more time if the NFL plans to appeal the decision by Robinson later this week. The NFL had been pushing for a full-season suspension, according to multiple reports.

Pro Football Network Insider Aaron Wilson said a source categorized the total of missed games as a victory for Watson. Watson’s punishment stemmed from the 24 civil suits he faced due to allegations of sexual misconduct. As of Monday, the Browns QB had settled 23 of those 24 suits, according to Wilson.

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How Deshaun Watson’s suspension impacts the Cleveland Browns’ offense

Following the trade that sent Watson to Cleveland, he signed a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract. The Browns structured the deal with very little cash up front. Due to the structure, Watson will only lose about $345,000 of his salary and will face no additional fines.

Of course, if the league were to appeal Robinson’s decision, Watson could miss more games and lose more money. The NFLPA released a statement on Sunday, prior to Robinson’s ruling, acknowledging that it would not appeal the decision.

The Browns will move forward with journeyman backup Jacoby Brissett as their starting QB for Week 1 and beyond as they await Watson’s return.

What does the Browns’ offense look like with Jacoby Brissett?

How much time do you have? Well, let’s make it simple: Watson’s suspension downgrades the Browns’ projected offensive success by quite a bit. While Watson and Brissett are both known as dual-threat QBs, Watson is exponentially more talented in about every facet than his replacement.

Watson, who didn’t play last season, has been a three-time Pro Bowl selection, led the league in passing yards in 2020, and produced 122 total touchdowns during his career.

Meanwhile, Brissett — who entered the league a year before Watson — has had modest success in the NFL as a fill-in starter. He won’t challenge a defense the way Watson would. While he can run, Brissett isn’t nearly as fast or dynamic on the ground as Watson. Brissett also doesn’t have the accuracy or downfield touch that Watson has as a passer.

With Brissett in place, look for the fill-in QB to favor specific, big-bodied targets like tight end David Njoku and wideout Amari Cooper. Brissett isn’t going to stretch the field, so the Browns are likely to rely on their running game to limit the QB’s action in the pocket. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will be leaned on regularly, while Brissett supplements the offense with throws to Njoku, Cooper, and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

The offense won’t be all that dynamic, but a ground-and-pound philosophy should help Cleveland control games during a fairly manageable opening slate of matchups. — Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter

How Watson’s suspension could impact fantasy football

Well, this is a game changer. Watson getting just six games suspension means he will be active for more than half of the fantasy football regular season.

Prior to this ruling, Watson’s ADP was largely irrelevant. The consensus was he would not play this season so managers were just taking shots on him in the last few rounds. Now, he’s firmly on the table as a middle-round pick.

We have precedent for elite players missing six games before. When it happened to Ezekiel Elliott in 2017, his ADP dropped from early-first round to late second. Six games seems like a lot, but Watson would be my QB7 if he wasn’t suspended at all. I expect to see him go in the late-single digit rounds.

Cooper was mostly left for dead by fantasy managers with the expectation of Brissett starting the entire season, and rightfully so. With Watson only out for six games, Cooper’s ADP is going to rise. I’m also much more interested in drafting him now. Cooper fantasy managers can get through six games of Brissett for 8-11 games with Watson. The Watson news is also going to raise the ADPs of Njoku and the Browns’ other pass catchers.

If the NFL appeals the ruling, which seems likely, it’s entirely possible Watson plays Week 1 and his suspension begins at an unknown point during the season following Goodell’s ruling. This would further complicate the matter of assessing the fantasy values of Browns players, seeing as when Watson misses games is just as important as how many. — Tommy Garrett, PFN Senior Fantasy Analyst

How does this impact the Browns’ betting odds?

Oddsmakers weren’t even willing to feature a Browns’ win total until the Watson suspension was announced. Knowing he’ll miss six games, taking the Browns’ over on their win total of 9.5 is attractive. The Browns are favored in 12 of their games thanks to the fact they have the easiest schedule in the NFL over the six-week span Watson will be suspended.

Adding Watson to this caliber of a roster is meaningful. If Brissett can help the Browns reach at least a 3-3 record against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers, Falcons, Chargers, and Patriots, then the Browns have a favorable pathway to the playoffs.

If Watson can find his rhythm in a new offense and be the star we last saw in 2020, the Browns are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Their defense is elite while still ascending. Their offense will thrive having an accurate but creative playmaker who protects the ball as well as anyone not named Aaron Rodgers.

Watson will return as the Browns face a difficult five-game stretch, featuring road games at the Ravens, Dolphins, and Bills. Cleveland’s home games in that six-week stretch are against the Bengals and the Buccaneers, with their bye week coming in Week 9.

Having Watson doesn’t make Cleveland a clear favorite in each of those games, but they become winnable. Even if they go 1-4 against those contenders, Cleveland can still reach 10 wins on the season. Their schedule is that favorable otherwise. — Ian Wharton, PFN Fantasy and Betting Analyst

How Watson’s suspension could impact the Browns’ 2023 NFL Draft plans

On the surface, Watson’s six-game suspension won’t have a tremendous impact on the team’s 2023 NFL Draft plans. In fact, the NFL draft itself takes on a smaller footprint now that Cleveland has Watson in tow. Cleveland dished out three first-round picks for the enigmatic QB earlier this offseason, along with a 2023 third-round pick and a fourth-rounder in each of the next two drafts.

The motivation behind the trade for Watson was clear. From a pure football perspective, this is a win-now move for a Cleveland franchise that’s been starved for success for the better part of a century. Not only did Cleveland trade for Watson, but they also signed him to a massive five-year contract. This was a commitment Cleveland was willing to make, at the known cost of three first-round picks. This is their window. The team is built, and it’s time to start competing.

With the Browns content on competing now, the draft doesn’t hold quite the amount of importance for them as it does for rebuilding franchises. But there are still some draft ramifications within the Watson suspension saga, especially regarding the placement of Cleveland’s second-round pick in 2023.

The Browns’ second-rounder is still their own, and thus will be dependent on their standing at year’s end. While Watson is away, Brissett will be the Browns’ starter. He’s experienced and a capable backup, but not much more than that. With Brissett at the helm, the Browns won’t be as competitive. A six-game suspension ensures that Watson returns early enough to help Cleveland right the ship and compete. However, on the NFL draft side, it does theoretically move them back down the board.

Simply put, the more games Brissett starts, the higher Cleveland picks in Round 2. With the NFL and the NFLPA squaring off, any appeal is unlikely to push Watson past eight games. But in a 17-game season, the margin is small. An additional two-game absence could be the difference between 9-8 and 7-10, which could be the difference between picking 44th overall or 50th. Good, game-changing prospects could go off the board in that range.

Admittedly, it’s a very small part of the Watson situation to address. But it’s something to consider. Nevertheless, the Browns have already conceded that any value lost is worth the price of adding Watson to the fold at QB. — Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst

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