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Browns face pressure to deliver as the 'official' Deshaun Watson era begins

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson runs drills at the NFL football team's training camp on Sunday, July 23, 2023, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Chris Carlson
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson runs drills at the NFL football team's training camp on Sunday, July 23, 2023, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

As training camp opens at a resort in West Virginia, Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Deshaun Watson are under pressure to deliver a winning season worthy of Watson's contract and last year's controversial trade.

“This should be, from a football standpoint, the start of the Deshaun Watson era, or at least that's kind of how the Browns are, in the background, framing it,” Pluto said.

The Browns signed Watson to a record-setting $230 million guaranteed contract in March 2022. The quarterback was suspended for the first 11 games of last season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He was accused of sexual assault and misconduct by dozens of women in Texas. He’s settled all but two lawsuits and was never indicted.

“Now we're going to find out for real what they've got in terms of him on the field,” Pluto said. “He is a very accurate passer and he has a lot of poise. Now, that's how it's all looked when they're not tackling him, because remember this, they don't tackle the quarterbacks in any of the workouts they have in training camp,” Pluto said.

Pluto said fans want results.

“Part of the fan base is still alienated and I understand that. And a season where you won only seven games and lost 10 and they gave him the record setting $230 million contract and you traded six draft choices, including three first rounders for him. Well, where's the pay off?” Pluto said.

Pluto said there’s added pressure on fourth-year coach Kevin Stefanski to deliver.

“I'm not saying a Super Bowl, but you better have a good year because they fired two of your top coordinators. Your defensive coordinator, Joe Woods, was replaced by a veteran defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz. And then they brought in a new special teams coach, a guy named Bubba Ventrone. Both of these guys are highly regarded [and] highly paid. In a sense, it's a way to kind of bolster Stefanski, because Stefanski’s main job, along with kind of being the head coach, is to get Deshaun Watson playing well. So, a big verdict on how Stefanski does not only is, 'Are they winning or losing?' but 'How is Deshaun Watson playing?” Pluto said.

There’s also a lot of pressure on ownership.

“Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the co-owners of the team, both are talking about, 'Deshaun Watson is in a good place. (A) good place mentally, a good place physically.' So, they're hoping for this because when you bring in a player with so much off-field baggage and a suspension and everything else that Watson had, that is an ownership decision. That goes straight to the Haslams. Their signature is all over it," Pluto said. "So, I think that they feel, you know, kind of on the spot, too. They're expecting a lot. They're smart enough now not to say. 'We have to make the playoffs or it's a terrible year.' They're not going to say stuff like that. But clearly the expectations are high.”

Pluto said the Browns are a talented team.

“They have some players I really like. I love Nick Chubb, the running back. Joel Bitonio, an offensive guard, I think has a chance to become a Hall of Famer. Myles Garrett is a premier defensive end. They have a wonderful wide receiver, Amari Cooper," Pluto said. "It's a talented team. Some people are saying it's a best team since they came back, at least talent wise. If Watson plays close to a Pro Bowl caliber, that’s true.”

Pluto said three of their first four games of the season are against tough division opponents.

“So, this is not one of those things, ‘Well we’ll just kind of roll gently into the season, play some soft teams.’ No, the AFC North is usually considered the toughest division in football, and I think it will be again," he said. "And you open with Cincinnati who’s been to a Super Bowl, so get ready for that."

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