PALM BEACH, Fla. — Browns coach Kevin Stefanski realizes he must find a balance this offseason by tailoring his offense to Deshaun Watson and preparing for life without the controversial quarterback.
When the Browns acquired Watson in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Texans on March 18, Cleveland executives knew preparing for the NFL to suspend Watson would come with territory.
Not only did the Browns shake the top of their quarterback depth chart by securing Watson as Baker Mayfield’s replacement, but they traded backup QB Case Keenum to the Buffalo Bills on March 19 and signed Jacoby Brissett to fill the role .
Two dozen women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct or sexual assault at massage appointments. He faces 22 active trials stemming from the allegations, but two Texas grand juries on March 11 and Thursday ruled that he does not face criminal charges. Watson continued to deny any wrongdoing during his introductory press conference on Friday.
The Browns will debut their 33rd quarterback since the club’s rebirth in 1999 when they open the 2022 season in September.
And it could be Brissett instead of Watson, who is likely to be suspended by the NFL for at least part of next season.
“That’s what we talked about,” Stefanski said Monday morning during the league’s owners meeting at The Breakers Palm Beach Resort. “Until we know that definitive answer, I’m speaking in hypotheses for now.
“But we have to be ready for any decision that may or may not go to Jacoby for any part of it. We’ll see what the league has to offer and we’ll plan accordingly when it comes to training and things like that.”
Stefanski said he has not received any clarification from the NFL as to when it will make a suspension decision.
Meanwhile, the Browns are eyeing the start of their voluntary off-season training program on April 19 at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus in Berea, and Stefanski said he expects Watson to be present from the start.
There will be a lot to work out, particularly what Stefanski’s offense will look like with Watson at the wheel instead of Mayfield. The Browns are expected to trade Mayfield, but they are currently on hold as they seek another team that can match the former No. 1 draft pick’s $18.858 million guaranteed salary next season takes over.
“I think everyone understands the situation,” said Stefanski, “and we hope there will be a conclusion at some point.”
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How much will the Cleveland Browns change their offense for Deshaun Watson?
When the Browns hired Stefanski as head coach in January 2020, he brought to Cleveland a system he learned from Gary Kubiak when they worked together for the Minnesota Vikings in 2019. Its staples are a running game fueled by zone blocking and game action passing.
“As your squad develops, you better develop,” said Stefanski. “… When you’re talking about quarterback position, you better do what that player does best, and that’s ultimately what we want to do. I’ve had a lot of really good conversations with Deshaun from a football point of view, with the coaches and I think we have a good plan for the future. But that will be an evolution. I mean that will be a development over the weeks, months.”
Will Stefanski go so far as to throw his Kubiak-inspired plan out the window?
“Ultimately, what we want to do is run the 2022 Cleveland Browns offense, and whatever elements are in there, we hope we have enough on our offense to switch to certain elements week in, week out,” Stefanski said. “But to say that we are going to fundamentally change everything? We will see.”
Stefanski said the coaching staff had already begun to delve deep into what Watson did with the Texans, who let him operate primarily with the shotgun.
“There are some things that Deshaun has done in his career that we’ve done over the last several years,” Stefanski said, “and there are a few other things that we may not have envisioned that we do now that Deshaun is ours.” Quarterback is wanting to do more and really tailor what we’re doing to his ability.
“[We’ll be] put together [on film] all the things that he’s comfortable with, then sit down with him, with our trainers, and let him talk about why he’s comfortable, because what we have to do is understand the pieces, at where he has 500 reps and he has a memorized memory of what to do on each of those games that might not be a big part of our offense. If he’s happy with that, we want to make sure we carry that over to our offense.”
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This story will be updated.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in Akron Beacon Journal: Deshaun Watson trade could result in major changes to Brown’s offense