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When it comes to draft night, the 'Deshaun Watson tariff' has hurt the Browns

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) sits on the bench during an NFL football game surrounded by orange coolers.
Kirk Irwin
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) sits on the bench during an game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Cleveland. For the third straight year, Cleveland is without a first-round pick after shipping them, along with a handful of late-round selections, to the Houston Texas in 2022 for Watson, who has often been injured and has yet to deliver a championship or even a playoff win.

For the third straight year, the Browns have no first-round picks in the NFL Draft. When the team traded with Houston for quarterback Deshaun Watson in 2022, they sent six draft picks to the Texans over three years — including three first-round selections.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said that means when the draft begins on Thursday night, the Browns will likely sit and watch. They’re not scheduled to pick until the second round, 54th overall.

“And that's why the draft, we could talk about it's almost like the Super Bowl for the Browns fans because the team would play poorly but then at least be drafting high. It's like Thursday night as the first round (is) being picked, (it’ll) be a snoozer,” Pluto said.

Pluto calls giving up the draft picks in exchange for the quarterback the “Watson tariff.”

“As we go in to 2024, the Browns have been sort of able to work around not having these first-round picks, but here's when it starts to hurt you is, we often hear about ‘Boy they took this guy right away and he's great as a rookie.’ But sometimes it's 2 or 3 years down the road when he really becomes a pretty good player,” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, Watson has played in just 12 of the 23 games he’s been eligible for since he arrived in Cleveland.

Now, he’s rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. Watson provided more details about the injury during a press conference last week.

“He broke this bone in his shoulder. And then he also mentioned that he had a partial tear of the labrum," Pluto said. "Then he went on a kind of a weird, and at least I thought it was, side story about how he might have broken his shoulder in the third game of the season, and then played two games after that with a broken shoulder. Possibly, that's what he said.”

Pluto said that while he found it hard to believe Watson played with that injury, he acknowledged that shoulder injuries in pitchers in baseball and quarterbacks in football make him nervous. He and the fans “are tired of hearing the Deshaun Watson medical reports,” he said. If Watson isn’t healthy to play, he said, “the price of the tariff gets worse and worse.”

Meanwhile, the team still found a way to go 11-6 and make the playoffs last season with four different quarterbacks.

“But that's a tough way to do it,' he said, "running through all those different quarterbacks.”

This season, the Browns will have three quarterbacks lined up behind Watson: Jameis Winston, Tyler Huntley and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

“They got four guys sitting in that (quarterback) room. That's a classic, you know, hope for the best, prepare for the worst. And while the Browns are doing a very good job of, as they would say, navigating around trading all the picks or whatever, and a quarterback who can't stay healthy, this is a tough way to live in the NFL,” Pluto said.

Pluto said there’s another downside to all this: A boring first-round draft night.

“This is the third year in a row where the draft is no fun. I mean, yeah, I'll see that maybe they’ll take some guy from Ohio State or somewhere we could write about him, but it's nothing like it's been in the past. And if the Browns were consistently in the playoffs winning big, it would be a different story. Well, the tariff is worth it. As of right now the tariff has hurt the Browns,” Pluto said.

The good news, he said, is that Cleveland sports fans have another option on Thursday night. The can watch the Cavs play the Orlando Magic in Game 3 of their NBA first-round playoff series.

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