When the Browns bought troubled Texan quarterback Deshaun Watson in a deal during the NFL’s 2022 offseason, it was a risky gamble. Although the 26-year-old passerby has been the subject of more than 20 court cases accusing him of assault and misconduct, clubs were still interested in signing him.
In the end, Cleveland won the competition for his services, but many uncertainties remained for the franchise. Could Watson compete in 2022? If so, when would he make his debut? And how will he perform after missing the entire 2021 season due to a disagreement with Houston?
These were all valid investigations and they were finally resolved on Thursday. After violating the NFL’s code of conduct, Watson is suspended for 11 weeks, but will be allowed to play in 2022, starting in Week 13 against the Texans.
Fans are asking another important question about Watson now that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to the sentence. How much will the suspension cost him and how much can the Browns save?
Watson’s contract contains a unique arrangement that appears to have been designed to lessen the effect of a suspension on his earning potential. Here’s an explanation of Watson’s contract during his hiatus.
Deshaun Watson contract
After being traded from the Texans to the Browns, Watson signed a five-year, $230 million contract. Given the uncertainty surrounding Watson’s legal status at the time of the transaction, his entire contract is guaranteed, which was carefully scrutinized at the time of the transaction.
Why is Deshaun Watson’s salary only $1 million in 2022?
In 2022, Watson agreed to accept a base salary of just $1.035 million. How come he did that? Cleveland recently signed several veterans to long-term contracts with base salaries at the lower end of the spectrum in the first year. However, Watson’s first-year compensation may have been a secret trick to successfully neutralize the effects of a suspension on Watson’s overall earnings.
Watson would have lost just 1/18 of his annual base salary per week had he been suspended for a shorter period of time (more than 17 games and a bye week). Given his modest base salary, Watson’s original six-game suspension in 2022 will only cost him $345,000. He will have to forfeit $632,500 if he is suspended for 11 games.
Watson would lose approximately $28.11 million if his base salary were the same as in the other four years of the contract, at $46 million. As a result, the Browns saved the quarterback more than $28 million by paying Watson’s base salary. However, Watson will still receive $46 million in wages for the 2022 season.
How can that be done at all? In addition to his $1.035 million base salary, the Browns paid Watson a $44.965 million signing bonus, giving him a $46 million total contract for 2022. In reality, Watson would earn $46 million in 2022 regardless of what happened.
However, paying him a much lower salary prevented him from losing any money during his suspension.
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What will happen to Deshaun Watson’s contract if he is suspended?
The length of Watson’s suspension determined what would happen to his contract. As indicated earlier, if suspended for a period shorter than a full year, Watson will lose 1/18 of his weekly basic income. Because of this, he will only lose $632,500 in 2022.
However, Watson’s contract position would have been significantly different had the suspension lasted an entire year. NFL contracts must expire after one year if a player has been suspended for more than a year. Why is that important? Watson’s contract would essentially be delayed by a year.
Any payment due to him in 2022 would be deferred by the NFL until 2023, and the same would be done for each subsequent year. Therefore, if Watson had been suspended for an entire year, the Browns would not have had to pay him anything in 2022. However, according to Joel Corry of CBS Sports, the team would still owe $8.933 million of Watson’s prorated signing bonus in 2022.
Therefore, Watson’s lost base salary would only result in a $1.035 million reduction in cap space for the Browns. Watson’s deal was brought forward a year so that the Browns would have him under contract from 2023 to 2027 instead of 2022 to 2026. Watson would not have received compensation in 2022 because of this penalty, and he would have to compete for a year while he earned a base salary of $1,035 million.
In addition, it would delay the possibility of him becoming a free agent by a year, which would be detrimental to him as he seeks another huge contract. Watson’s one-year sentence would have saved the Browns only $1.035 million, so it wouldn’t significantly reduce their available cap space.
Even though Watson was suspended in 2022, they still have over $49 million in cap room, so they may have been looking for a temporary solution as a quarterback.
Will Deshaun Watson lose any salary with a suspension?
Although Watson’s $230 million contract was fully guaranteed, many people don’t know how much money the Browns will get back if he is suspended. Simply put, they won’t be able to.
According to CBS Sports Joel Corry, Watson’s contract with the Browns contains wording that prohibits the team from seeking reimbursement of his salary or signing bonus. The formal rationale for Watson’s contract is listed below, according to Corry.
If the following occurs:… (iii) Player is suspended solely for reasons disclosed to the club in writing under Section 42, resulting in the player being unavailable to the club solely for games during the NFL League Years 2022 or 2023, it does not constitute a failure or refusal to practice with the club, and the player will not be in default.
Deshaun Watson will receive a fully guaranteed 5-year, $230 million contract. That’s $80 million more than the previous record for fully guaranteed money on signing ($150 million). This deal was negotiated by David Mulugheta of Athletes First. https://t.co/nQls9WRpD1
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 18, 2022
The Browns might have required Watson to pay back his $8.933 million prorated signing bonus for 2022 had he been suspended for an entire season had Watson’s contract not included this clause. In addition, they may have recovered a prorated portion of it (the number of suspended games divided by 18), since he was under arrest for part of the season.
Unfortunately, while negotiating a contract extension with the Browns, Watson made sure to secure his finances and himself. Therefore, beyond the $345,000 of Watson’s $1.035 million base salary, the Browns will have few options for getting back the money they budgeted for him, even if he’s absent.
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