CLEVELAND — The record-setting contract Deshaun Watson received from the Browns could undergo some revising.
Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry indicated the team may consider restructuring the five-year, $230 million deal — to clear salary cap space — it used to entice Watson to agree to a trade from Houston to the Browns one year ago.
“It could be on the table, but there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of what we can do,” Berry said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
The Browns are approximately $14 million over the salary cap and need to get under it if they intend to be active in free agency, which opens on March 15.
Watson‘s deal not only made league history because it was fully guaranteed, but his salary cap hit is $55 million in 2023, another record. The contract also established a new bar for quarterbacks around the league.
While the Browns have some current financial constraints, Berry was confident the team will be active in free agency. Cleveland needs to upgrade its defensive line and may be in the market for a top-flight wide receiver.
“The rules are flexible, whether it’s releasing a player, trading a player, restructuring a deal, negotiating an extension,” Berry said. “There are a number of different avenues to create cap space. The approach we would take would really be dictated by the opportunities in front of us. One of our tenants is flexibility. We have enough flexibility to be as aggressive or conservative as we need to be.”
As for Watson, the Browns need him to be better.
He was suspended 11 games by the NFL last season after being accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women while he played for the Texans. Watson initially turned down a trade to the Browns before they upped their offer to him in desperation to land one of the league’s top QBs.
Cleveland also sent three first-round draft picks to Houston in the deal, which sent a shockwave across the league.
Following his suspension, Watson went just 3-3 in six starts as the 27-year-old struggled to find his Pro Bowl form following a 700-day layoff between games. The Browns finished 7-10, but Berry remains confident Watson will improve in 2023.
“We are pleased with where Deshaun is, pleased with the progress he has made since he has been with us and certainly anticipate him having a very strong year on and off the field going into 2023,” Berry said. ”We are very excited about Deshaun.
“We are looking forward to continuing to evolve the offense over the next several months. Obviously having him have a full offseason going into 2023 and certainly expect him to play at a high level.”
NOTES: The Browns will play the New York Jets in this year’s Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3. With former Cleveland All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas slated for induction in a class that includes Jets legends Joe Klecko and Darrelle Revis, the matchup is a natural. It will be the Browns’ first appearance in the game since 1999, when they returned to the league as an expansion franchise.
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