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Browns QB next season is Watson, and Flacco shouldn't be the backup

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) stands on the sideline during an NFL football game.
Kirk Irwin
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) stands on the sideline during an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023, in Cleveland.

The Browns season ended with a thud in a blowout loss to Houston in the playoffs, 45-14. Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto reflected on the surprising season and looked at what’s next for quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Deshaun Watson.

Pluto said veteran quarterback Flacco’s luck finally ran out in the Wild Card game on Saturday. He fell flat in the second half after winning his last four starts in Cleveland.

“It was almost like the clock struck midnight and the man wearing the golden spike shoes, it kind of turned back to cardboard shoes,” Pluto said.

The big question head coach Kevin Stefanski received from the media after the loss was about the quarterback situation between Flacco and Deshaun Watson. Flacco, 39, was brought in to replace Watson, who suffered a season-ending injury in November and underwent shoulder surgery. Back ups Dorian Thompson Robinson and P.J. Walker also were injured.

There's no intrigue about who will start next year.

“Kevin Stefanski immediately says 'Deshaun is our quarterback. He's making good progress,'” Pluto said.

Pluto said the Browns are locked in with Watson on his $230 million contract signed in 2022.

“This is a follow-the-money story. (Watson has) three more years on that big five-year contract, fully guaranteed. On top of that, something that is often ignored by the media, Deshaun Watson actually has a no-trade clause in that contract. In other words, he ain't going anywhere,” Pluto said.

Pluto said Stefanski’s job remains to get Watson up to speed and ready to play at a high level next season.

Still, Pluto believes there are many question marks surrounding Watson’s playing future.

“Remember, he started to get hurt even before he ended up having shoulder surgery. How healthy is he going to be? How well is he going to play?” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, fans are wondering Flacco’s future in Cleveland. Pluto said keeping Flacco on the roster as Watson’s backup could create a divide among the fan base and even in the locker room if Watson has a bad game.

He believes the solution is to find another veteran quarterback to be Watson’s backup. His idea is to bring back Jacoby Brissett, who started 11 games for the Browns in 2022 while Watson was suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Brissett finished with a starting record of 4-7 while completing 64% of his passes for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Brissett is a free agent after signing with the Washington Commanders for this season.

“I would bring him back instead of Joe. He still can play and proved he could play here. And there might be just a little less of that Joe versus Deshaun stuff. And also, Joe Flacco may have some opportunities maybe to go somewhere and start,” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, Browns 2018 No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield led his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a stunning 32-9 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round Monday night. Mayfield threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns.

“Remember how Baker looked in 2020, the last time the Browns went to the playoffs before this year? That Baker showed up in Tampa. I mean, I really enjoyed it for him. He's a guy that's sort of rebuilt his career,” Pluto said.

As for Browns fans, Pluto said the team overachieved this year, but the Wild Card game loss felt like a “thud.” He said the team will have some decisions to make in the offseason.

“They sit down and go through the roster. You know, do they need another receiver? Some people think they need to do that. They need to figure out why the defense only allowed 14 points a game at home and allowed 30 points a game on the road. You need, in my mind, to get a viable, veteran, established backup quarterback,” Pluto said.

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