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Deshaun Watson Set to Start for Browns in 2024: Latest Update on QB’s Rehabilitation

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The Browns relied on Joe Flacco to close out the season and into the wild-card round in the wake of numerous injuries under center. The former Super Bowl MVP does not intend to retire any time soon, but a continued Browns tenure would not involve him maintaining his starting position.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed (via ESPN’s Jake Trotter) that Deshaun Watson sits atop the team’s offseason QB depth chart. The latter was shut down for the season due to shoulder surgery, and his absence led to the pursuit of Flacco in the first place. The 38-year-old was used as a gameday elevation for two weeks while staving off interest from teams looking to sign him off Cleveland’s practice squad. His strong play carried over through the end of the regular season, though the loss to the Texans saw a continuation of Flacco’s turnover issues.

It comes as no surprise Watson will be the No. 1 when healthy given his contract situation and the lack of proven options behind him on the depth chart (at least before Flacco was signed). A report from last month indicated Cleveland was open to the idea of keeping Flacco in place despite the presence of Watson and 2023 fifth-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson. In any case, Flacco’s impressive audition has no doubt boosted his market amongst interested teams ahead of free agency, something which will help his goal of playing through the age of 40.

Stefanski added that Watson should be recovered from surgery sometime this spring, meaning he should be able to participate in Cleveland’s offseason program. A healthy and productive campaign in 2024 will be critical given the extent to which things have not gone according to plan for team and player in this situation. The former Texans Pro Bowler was suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 season, and the lingering shoulder issues limited him to six contests this year. Watson performed at a higher level when on the field in 2023 than he did in his debut Browns season, but to date he has not met expectations on his fully guaranteed $230MM pact.

Over each of the next three seasons, Watson is scheduled to carry a record-shattering cap hit of just under $64MM. Another restructure to his contract will therefore likely take place in the near future, and the particulars of that move will inform much of the team’s remaining budget at the QB spot. A deal with Flacco or another veteran backup option could be in play, but Watson will enter the build-up to the 2024 campaign assured of his spot atop the depth chart.

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