Around each move of Deshaun Watson's career over the last year-plus, the same familiar refrain has been said. "But a suspension might be coming."
When the Texans spent all of 2021 keeping him on the sideline, we said it. When the Texans put him on the open trade market, we said it. And when the Cleveland Browns gave him the most guaranteed money in NFL history, we definitely said it.
Clearly, even Watson's agent said it, which is why Watson's contract is structured the way it is. In anticipation of a 2022 suspension, he's slated to make just $1.03 million in base salary this year, ballooning to $46 million in 2023 and beyond.
A contract like that serves one purpose and one purpose only. To keep Watson from losing money because of suspension this season. The Browns' claims to the contrary aren't credible.
NFL to Meet With Watson
Finally, after more than a year of investigating the conduct of Watson and the 22 civil lawsuits filed against him for sexual misconduct and assault, league officials are due to meet with Watson this week.
One league source told reporters, "It is safe to assume that the NFL will be interviewing Deshaun at great length in the near future." Other sources have confirmed that the nearness of the future is just a matter of days.
Reports also indicate that after the interview is conducted, Watson plans to treat his offensive teammates to a trip to the Bahamas this weekend. He's rented out a practice field there, and along with the planned team bonding, the group will engage in offseason workouts together.
The optics of a millionaires' trip to the Bahamas after being interviewed about nearly two dozen allegations of misconduct aside, the league typically interviews the player near the end of their investigation. The NFL hasn't revealed its timeline, but if precedent holds, the league may hand down its ruling in the next few weeks.
A grand jury declined to indict Watson, but criminal charges are not necessary for the league to suspend a player. The personal conduct policy agreed to in 2007 gives the league the power to suspend anyone who violates the policy. Sometimes they will even go against their own investigators' recommendation, as they did with Ezekiel Elliott in 2017.
Elliott was suspended for the first six games of that season, even though the lead investigator recommended no suspension.
Who Might Quarterback in Watson's Absence
If the NFL decides to suspend Watson, the Browns really only have one option at quarterback.
The starter during a Watson absence would be Jacoby Brissett. He played extensively in six games for the Dolphins last season and was the Colts' full-time starter in 2019 after Andrew Luck unexpectedly retired.
Joshua Dobbs has been in the league since he was selected by the Steelers in 2017, but the former Tennessee Volunteer has thrown just 17 NFL passes and would at best be the Cleveland backup.
There is virtually no scenario where fences are mended enough to put Baker Mayfield back under center, even though he does remain on the roster and under contract.