Jimmy Haslam Closes A Blockbuster Deal For Deshaun Watson With The Stroke Of A Pen

The Browns finally landed their franchise quarterback with a blockbuster deal for Deshaun Watson. (Getty Images)

The Browns finally landed their franchise quarterback with a blockbuster deal for Deshaun Watson. (Getty Images)

Jimmy Haslam closes a blockbuster deal for Deshaun Watson with the stroke of a pen

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

Instant takeaways from the blockbuster trade for Deshaun Watson by the Browns …

If Browns owner Jimmy Haslam indeed was the driving force behind the pursuit of Deshaun Watson, then he was the person to punch the ball over the goal line.

Haslam reversed Watson’s initial decision to not waive his no-trade clause for the Browns by guaranteeing the entirety of a new, five-year contract.

Haslam essentially wrote a check to fully guarantee Watson $230 million over five years. It’s the largest full guarantee in NFL history.

What’s more, Watson’s $46 million per year average surpasses that of Patrick Mahomes ($45 million). 
Mahomes' fully guaranteed money in his 10-year contract is $63.1 million.

Watson still trails the $50.3 million average over three years recently signed by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

So, while Watson surely evaluated the Browns as the best team on paper among the four pursuing him, the fact is he turned them down until Haslam upped the ante.

Agent David Mulugheta coyly worked with the Browns to structure the contract so that Watson would not be unduly hurt financially by a possible NFL suspension as a result of 22 civil lawsuits confronting him. 

Watson’s base salary for 2022 is $1 million. Which means Watson will only lose 1/17 of his base salary ($58,823) for every game suspended.

The five-year deal includes a $45 million signing bonus. That means Watson’s salary cap figure for 2022 would be a mere $10 million -- $9 million in pro-rated signing bonus + $1 million in base salary.

That $10 million cap number is lower than Baker Mayfield’s $18.89 million.

Further, the miniscule cap number enabled the Browns to retain backup QB Case Keenum. Keenum’s $1 million roster bonus was exercised on Friday, which means he can stay on their books in the final year of his contract for a cap number of $8.433 million.

Even though Watson was inactive for every Houston game last season, he earned $37.5 million in 2021 -- $27 million in signing bonus + $10.5 million in salary – from the four-year, $156 million contract he signed with the Texans before he turned on them and demanded to be traded.

Adding it all up, Watson will have hauled in $267.5 million through 2026. At that time, he will be 31 years old, presumably still in the prime of his career, and due for another contract that will make this one look like chump change.

No players in return

The terms of the trade involved no Browns players.

The Browns receive Watson and the Texans’ fifth-round pick in 2024. The Texans receive the Browns’ first-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024; a third-round pick in 2023; and a fourth-round pick in 2024.

So the Browns did not deplete their 2022 draft arsenal except for the first-round pick. They still have their pick in the second round, two in the third round and two in the fourth round.

How were the Browns able to pull this off?

Once they won the blessing of Watson and Mulugheta, Houston GM Nick Caserio’s hands were tied in trying to pull more out of the Browns in a trade. The Browns had all the leverage because of Watson's authority to choose his team.

Despite reports prior to the courtship, the Browns never included players in preliminary trade conversations. Parameters were agreed to, such as the three No. 1s and unspecified additional trade capital, which was required for the Browns to receive permission from the Texans to proceed with their meeting with Watson.

NFL discipline possible 

Although Watson lawyer Rusty Hardin has insisted Watson wants to clear his name and would not settle the 22 lawsuits stemming from allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions over a four-year period, it’s likely that Watson will now pursue settlements.

Hardin and Watson did pursue settlements last year when the Miami Dolphins included that demand in a trade for him. At that time, Hardin was unable to get it done.

But it shouldn’t be a problem for Watson, thanks to the check written by Haslam.

If Watson does settle the cases, which undoubtedly would include non-disclosure agreements barring the plaintiffs from talking about details of their allegations, Watson likely would be subject to a future suspension by the NFL.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy issued the following statement to TheLandOnDemand:

“Any transaction would have no effect on the NFL’s ongoing and comprehensive investigation of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson. Nor would it affect his status under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy.

 “If the league’s investigation determines that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, discipline may be imposed pursuant to the policy and the CBA.”

Whither Mayfield?

On Thursday, Mayfield formally demanded a trade from the Browns. On Friday, Mayfield reportedly informed the Browns he’d prefer to be traded to the Indianapolis Colts.

A source speculated to TLOD that is unlikely to happen, however, citing Mayfield’s personality as not being a fit with Colts GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich.

We’ll see how that proceeds. The Browns should not have a problem trading Mayfield somewhere to replenish the draft capital spent in the Watson trade.

Other teams still with vacancies for a starting quarterback include the Panthers, Saints and Seahawks.