After A Tumultuous First Season With Deshaun Watson, Browns Stride More Confidently Into Nfl League Meetings

There hasn't been a lot of winning yet in the Deshaun Watson-Jimmy Haslam partnership, but it has caused huge problems for the rival Baltimore Ravens. (Associated Press)

There hasn't been a lot of winning yet in the Deshaun Watson-Jimmy Haslam partnership, but it has caused huge problems for the rival Baltimore Ravens. (Associated Press)

After a tumultuous first season with Deshaun Watson, Browns stride more confidently into NFL league meetings

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.


A year ago the Browns came to NFL meetings as uncomfortable outliers.

They had just broken from the ranks of “league-first” think by fully guaranteeing Deshaun Watson a contract for $230 million after agreeing to trade three No. 1 draft picks, and three others, to the Houston Texans for the quarterback who was embroiled in sexual misconduct controversy and civil lawsuits.

It was a stunning, desperate departure from what NFL ownerships were coached to do. It was an NBA-like contract, marking the second time in five years the Browns leaned on that sports league for an outside-the-box precedent.

In 2017, the Browns were awash in cap space and agreed to take on the $16 million contract of quarterback Brock Osweiler in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Coincidentally, that trade partner was also the Texans.

The Osweiler trade was hailed as “brilliant” by the analytics community. Osweiler never played a down for the Browns, but the second-round pick ultimately was used to select running back Nick Chubb.

The Watson trade hasn’t paid similar dividends through its first year other than to strangle contract negotiations and destroy the relationship -- perhaps permanently -- between one of the Browns’ most bitter rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, and their franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson.

It is pure irony that the man who approved both of those NBA-like transactions, Jimmy Haslam, recently purchased a 25 percent ownership stake in the NBA Milwaukee Bucks. That investment stake in the team is reportedly valued at $875 million and comes with a rotating stint as “governor” of the club – its top decision-maker. Haslam is in the process of being vetted by the NBA before the transaction becomes official.

The Browns were an 0-16 team immediately after making the Osweiler trade. Now they arrive at the posh Arizona Biltmore NFL meeting rooms as a 7-10 team following the Watson flap.

The Haslams – co-owner Dee is an equal partner with Jimmy – have sworn that they have not received cold shoulder treatment from the other billionaires for upsetting the apple cart with the Watson mega-deal. 

It’s possible that some are snickering a year later due to the Browns' losing first season with Watson. It’s also possible that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is doing a fast burn. His organization is paralyzed to make improvements because of the impasse with Jackson. Bisciotti isn't even making an appearance here this week.

Into this desert resort strode a Browns’ management team confident from a bountiful transaction. GM Andrew Berry aggressively signed eight players in free agency and added one in trade. The dollar figures don’t rival last year’s due to the Watson contract, but the total of nine veteran moves equalled what Berry did in his first transaction season as GM in 2020.

Besides conducting business internally in league matters, the Browns’ key decision-makers will meet with Northeast Ohio media on hand to give their state-of-the-team addresses with the heavy lifting of 2023 changes complete.

Berry will meet on Sunday. Coach Kevin Stefanski will meet on Monday morning.The Haslams will meet on Monday evening.

League owners overall have a full plate of issues to debate, vote on, or table until their next meeting in May.

Among the more interesting:

* The Eagles proposed allowing the use of zero as a jersey number. Under the proposal, all position players other than offensive and defensive linemen would be able to wear zero. (There is no language about using double zero.)

* The Eagles proposed giving a team behind in the score a fourth-and-20 option to keep possession rather than kicking off following a score.

* The Lions proposed permitting using replay to challenge personal fouls. The club also proposed giving a team a third coaches challenge if it is successful on one of its first two.

* The Rams proposed permitting replay challenges on roughing-the-passer fouls.

* The competition committee proposed giving a team possession at the 25-yard line, rather than the 20, if a punt results in a touchback.

* The competition committee proposed giving a team possession at the 25-yard line if there is a fair catch of a kickoff or free kick if it is behind the 25.

* The Lions proposed a bylaw to bring back the emergency third quarterback on game day in the event the team’s two active quarterbacks are lost to injury.

* The Chargers proposed a bylaw to re-seed the playoff field. Their proposal would allow a wild-card team to be seeded higher than a division champion with a losing record, as long as the wild-card team has at least four more wins.

* The Browns are one of 24 teams proposing a resolution to make just one roster cut from 90 to 53 at the conclusion of the pre-season schedule.

* The Eagles proposed a resolution to have stadium game clocks display tenths of a second in the final 30 seconds of the second and fourth quarters.