The Browns Paid $230 Million For A Ticket On The Titanic
“Just win, baby.” It’s one of the most memorable and beloved quotes in NFL history, from the late owner of the then Oakland Raiders, Al Davis. It’s simple, sharp, and to the point. As Al Davis intended it, applied to the Raiders, it’s a winking acknowledgement that the way they do things is as unconventional as his son’s choice in hairstyle. There’s a reason that draft analysts never write the Raiders’ draft picks in anything other than the lightest pencil strokes. The quote cuts to the core of the league, however, in a way that also has an unpleasant base truth: that winning is everything, and that no one will care how you got there if you do. Well, the Cleveland Browns have decided to test the absolute breaking point of that credo, by trading for DeShaun Watson.
Maybe they’re buoyed by the fact that if there’s a single NFL fanbase that is desperate for wins, it’s the Cleveland Browns. Being a Cleveland Browns fan outside of long-departed glory days has, for the most part, been the kind of thorough punishment that you’d usually have to take to FetLife to receive. It’s the sports equivalent of locking yourself in an iron maiden shaped like the letter L. The Browns front office decided to make a bet, by dropping one of the most publicly reviled players in recent memory on one end of a scale and hoping Cleveland football fans’ collective desperation is enough to keep it balanced.
If you have been lucky enough to somehow avoid hearing about the accusations against former Texans QB Deshaun Watson, I regret to bring you into the fold. You can also consider this your trigger warning for (alleged) sexual assault. Watson, at the time of the trade, was the defendant in 24 suits brought against him by massage therapists accusing him of sexual assault, ranging from forcible sexual touching to forced oral sex and ejaculating on these women without their consent. My usage of the word “range” here is in the same way that getting knifed in the gut and being decapitated qualifies as a “range” of physical injury. None of them are anything that someone in their right mind would consider “ok.”
If you’re a sweet summer child, raised on the scent of fresh meadowgrass and the nectar of buttercups, you might be asking, “how is this guy still in the league?” Here’s where the deep, unfortunate sigh of reality has to slip through the teeth of those of us who weren’t born from the union of a unicorn and rainbow. The NFL, and society at large, has always included someone’s ability and monetary value in the dark math of accountability. Bill Burr once perfectly summed up the equation in a Conan appearance after Paula Deen was revealed to unshockingly have been less than stellar in her ideas of race. Burr said off Deen, “she’ll make you a hundred million dollars and have to figure out, what is the acceptable amount of time after someone drops the n-word, or admits to it, that you can bring them back on TV to make cookies.” Deen, strangely enough, seems to have been one of the cases that actually stuck, but the calculus rings true through today.
DeShaun Watson, as far as the NFL is concerned, is the whale to end all whales. He’s Moby Dick. Because DeShaun Watson is a franchise quarterback. Teams, like the Browns, spend literal decades attempting to find one. The parallels continue when, as with Ahab, the question was just how much were they willing to give up. They, and the captain, seem to have come to the same conclusion: everything. Not just from a moral standpoint, either. The price they paid in the trade was not that of damaged goods. This was not someone looking for a second chance. Burr talked about Deen making a hundred million dollars. Watson is being paid over twice that, just in guaranteed money. If he takes the field for the first time in a Browns uniform and a bolt of lightning vaporizes his throwing arm, the Browns will still be paying him $230 million dollars. Not to mention the draft capital, including their first-round picks for the next 3 years. This isn’t someone seeing value or an opportunity, this is someone straight up deciding, “#*$& it.” People have compared it to a deal with the devil, but at least when you make a deal with the devil, the thing you get in return doesn’t still cost $230 million dollars.
The Browns brass did a little parade of only the most required press about the decision, taking turns burying the podium in a pile of horse manure that would make a stableboy gag. They presumably thought that those conferences would be their lowest moment, only to immediately hear the other shoe, or in this case, towel, drop. See, the thing about accusations like this is that they’re like cockroaches: if you see one, there’s plenty more. And if you see 24? You should put as much distance as possible between you and that horror show of a house. The Browns basically got told a house was haunted and then still offered market price. Now, they’re dealing with the skeletons. Since the trade, MORE cases have emerged accusing Watson of sexual assault. Something that people that need a couple intense therapy sessions and maybe a household wellness check are calling “convenient”, instead of what is not only likely, but stated: that there were more women, scared of the “payoff” of public attacks, scrutiny, and defamation, who thought 24 cases would be enough to result in actual consequences, not a record-breaking contract.
I’m well aware of the evils of the NFL. After all, I’m from Washington, DC. And it’s with zero pleasure or schadenfreude that I watch the dung-crusted crown of the most despicable ownership in the NFL move to another franchise (though it may still be a tie.) The Browns are sinking. The fans, the ones that have put so much of their life into a team that was previously a lovable underdog, are forced to jump ship or trust in a captain mad-eyed and frothing with lust for a Lombardi trophy. Even if they find the victory they’re looking for, they’ll likely find themselves throwing a very lonely parade.