Will Andrew Berry Throw A Hail Mary For Deshaun Watson Or Check It Down To Baker Mayfield?

Will these two quarterbacks be trading jerseys in 2022? (Cleveland.com)

Will these two quarterbacks be trading jerseys in 2022? (Cleveland.com)

Will Andrew Berry throw a Hail Mary for Deshaun Watson or check it down to Baker Mayfield?

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

With GM Andrew Berry’s third transaction season kicking off Monday at noon, the Browns traded for wide receiver Amari Cooper over the weekend.

And that was just an appetizer for what may come.

They’re weighing whether to go “all in” and enter the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes.

Fasten your seat belts, Browns fans.

According to numerous reports, and confirmed by a source with knowledge of the team’s thought process, the Browns have intensified interest in trading for the disgraced Houston Texans quarterback.

Watson officially was put on the trade market when a grand jury in Houston declined to indict Watson on 10 criminal complaints of sexual misconduct. Watson still is facing 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions. An NFL suspension could occur in 2022, as a result.

Watson, 26, was inactive for all of 2021 season after he demanded a trade. The shocking accusations followed thereafter.

The Texans, who paid Watson $10.5 million not to play last year, are up against a March 20 deadline to trade him. That’s when $37 million in salary and roster bonus become fully guaranteed for the 2023 season. Watson’s 2022 salary of $35 million already is fully guaranteed. 

So the Texans have 72 million reasons to get a deal done.

All of these factors – and others – are why the Browns are doing “due diligence” on the feasibility of trading for Watson.

Besides researching the legal hurdles still ahead for Watson, the Browns have to investigate whether Watson would waive his no-trade clause to play in Cleveland, and then assemble a trade package agreeable to the Texans.

Reports from a year ago consistently have stated three No. 1 draft picks, two No. 2s and multiple players as Houston’s asking price.

Which raises the obvious question: What does this mean for Baker Mayfield?

Hail Mary or checkdown? 

Despite public assurances by Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski – and private ones to Mayfield’s agents -- that they expected Mayfield to be their starting quarterback in 2022, the Browns have explored other options to upgrade the position.

It appears they have concluded their options now are down to throwing up a Hail Mary for Watson or checking down to Mayfield.

In the last week, the Seahawks traded Russell Wilson to Denver, the Falcons restructured the contract of Matt Ryan and the Vikings extended by one year the contract of Kirk Cousins. 

Other possibilities – the Raiders’ Derek Carr, the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, free agents Mitchell Trubisky and Marcus Mariota – don’t appear to be favored by Berry and the Browns.

So it’s Watson or Mayfield – at least for 2022.

Mayfield is entering the final year of his contract for $18.89 million after the Browns exercised his fifth-year option last May. They reportedly have told his agents a contract extension is not in their present plans.

Trading for Watson would require the Browns to deal Mayfield elsewhere. There was speculation that Tampa Bay might consider making a run at Mayfield, but that died abruptly when Tom Brady announced Sunday he was unretiring and returning to the Bucs in 2022.

There has been speculation of Mayfield being included in a proposed trade for Watson. But a source familiar with Houston’s goals in a trade said the Texans are comfortable with second-year QB Davis Mills and do not want a quarterback involved in a deal for Watson. Another source termed the chances of the Texans accepting Mayfield in a deal as “very low.”

Thus, if Berry seriously pursues a trade for Watson, he simultaneously would have to find a second trade partner for Mayfield. Currently, the Colts, Panthers, Saints and Seahawks are in the market for a starting quarterback.

According to an NFL Network report, the Panthers and Saints have made aggressive trade offers to Houston for Watson and are “likely to meet with him soon” to gauge his interest in them.

It is not known whether the Browns’ “due diligence” has extended to a trade offer or a requested meeting with Watson.

Two messages from TheLandOnDemand.com to David Mulugheta, Watson’s agent, were not immediately returned. The Browns, through a club spokesman, have declined to comment on news reports of interest in Watson.

What about Cooper? 

Berry’s trade for Cooper, which won’t be confirmed by the Browns until at least the official start of the new league year on Wednesday, certainly can be seen as an effort to interest Watson in them. At the very least, it improves the Browns’ dire situation at wide receiver.

The Browns gave up a fifth-round pick to the Cowboys for Cooper and exchanged places with Dallas in the sixth round. The small trade price was a result of the Cowboys’ desire to rid their salary cap of Cooper’s scheduled cap charge of $26 million in 2022.

But Cooper’s contract takes on a different light with the Browns. He has three years remaining at $20 million annually. However, the deal contains no more guaranteed money. The Browns would face no cap charges if they move on after each remaining year of his deal. They could also reduce his $20 million 2022 cap charge by restructuring his contract, but that would add future cap charges if they released him.

Cooper, who turns 28 in June, made the Pro Bowl four times in his seven NFL seasons. Originally taken No. 4 overall by the Raiders in 2015, he was traded to the Cowboys in 2018 for their first-round pick in 2019, which turned out to be No. 27 overall.

In his career, Cooper has averaged 74 receptions for 1,010 yards and 6.5 touchdowns. Cooper has appeared in 108 of a possible 113 games in his career.

Cooper will help rebuild a Browns’ receiving corps that saw the messy divorce with Odell Beckham Jr. last year and possibly a release of Jarvis Landry this week. The Browns reportedly are trying to convince Landry to take a paycut to return. But it sounded less likely after the team gave Landry permission to seek a trade on Saturday.

Cooper’s addition doesn’t mean the Browns still wouldn’t add another receiver in free agency or with their first-round pick on April 28.

After months of speculation, we’ll finally see Berry’s plan to rebuild the team’s pass offense – at receiver and quarterback – starting this week.