The Deshaun Watson suspension has been announced and the Cleveland Browns will be without their new franchise quarterback for six games (though the NFL has three days to appeal the suspension). Cleveland planned for a suspension of some length, given that Watson’s record-setting $230 million contract featured a 2022 salary of just over $1 million, though he still has a cap hit of more than $10 million for the season.
Watson’s absence leaves Jacoby Brissett as the unquestioned starter for the Browns barring injury and the current backup QB is Joshua Dobbs, formerly of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Sportsbooks have been forced to walk the line between Watson and Brissett when it comes to futures and game lines, but clarity with the situation has brought about plenty of changes.
When Watson was acquired on March 18, the Browns jumped from 30/1 to 14/1 to win Super Bowl LVII at DraftKings Sportsbook. After a variety of offseason adjustments, the Browns had settled in at 28/1 to win Super Bowl, along with prices of 14/1 to win the AFC and + 275 to win the AFC North.
Most sportsbooks pulled Browns' futures odds as the decision neared.
BetMGM also made similar futures changes, moving Cleveland from 30-1 to 20-1 to win the Super Bowl and 16-1 to 11-1 to win the AFC.
"I was thinking it would be closer to eight games," Ed Salmons, SuperBook Sports vice president of risk, told VSiN in a text message. "So less that what we thought, but who knows what Roger Goodell could do from here. We got [the odds] back up and will expect another two games."
The Browns were -1 for their Week 1 game against Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers prior to the announcement and are now a 1-point underdog. Cleveland is currently favored in five of the six games that Watson would miss. Here are the lines at DraftKings:
Week 1: -1 at Panthers
Week 2: -4.5 vs. NY Jets
Week 3: -4 vs. Steelers
Week 4: -4.5 at Falcons
Week 5: + 3 vs. Chargers
Week 6: -2.5 vs. Patriots
"I went a little lower on the season win total and on the No to make the playoffs," Circa sportsbook manager Chris Bennett told VSiN in a text message. "I didn't change the Super Bowl or AFC odds. In fact, we've taken a few bets since opening and we're pretty much back to where we were."
Questions about Watson’s effectiveness having missed the entire 2021 were always present, but he represented a clear upgrade over previous starter Baker Mayfield and also Brissett, who has 37 career starts to his name, but is largely viewed as an average player at the position. After all, Watson led the NFL in passing yards in 2020 and had amassed 104 touchdowns against just 36 interceptions in his first four seasons.
Brissett, meanwhile, has a 36/17 TD/INT ratio over 1,208 pass attempts in his career, going 7-8 as a starter when Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement came down in 2019 and 4-11 as the injury replacement for Luck in 2017.
There is no question that Brissett plays the most important position on the field, but Cleveland has an exceptional running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind a strong offensive line. The Browns also have a solid set of pass-catchers with the trade for Amari Cooper and third-round pick David Bell.
The defense was also second in the league in yards per play allowed. Cleveland was just 21st in takeaways with 19 and had a litany of injuries in the secondary. This is still a good roster around Brissett and the headaches and distractions of Mayfield are gone. Will that be enough for the Browns to exceed expectations?
The Browns will remain a hot-button team for several reasons and a potential Jimmy Garoppolo deal as discussed by Michael Lombardi could be on the table, but the Watson resolution provides a lot of welcomed clarity for all 17 of Cleveland’s games, as well as the futures market.
VSiN's Ben Fawkes contributed to this report.