In a stunning turn of events the Browns went from being out of the Deshaun Watson trade discussion to landing the superstar quarterback via trade with the Texans. As part of the trade Watson secured a new contract that is worth $230 million over five years and is fully guaranteed. I guess as they say “money talks” and the Browns put up a great offer.
The cost is nothing short of stunning and an amazing win for his agency, Athletes First. Watson originally had been schedule to earn $136 million over the next four seasons. Effectively the Browns just threw him a $94 million franchise tag for the rights to the 2026 season. It is an absurd amount of money which I would guess no team in the NFL would come close to matching, especially give the costs of the trade. According to Albert Breer the Browns will give up three first round picks and two other high draft picks in addition to forking over the major contract.
Watson’s new contract will average $46 million per year which will make him the highest paid player in the NFL, depending on how one views Aaron Rodgers recent contract extension which can be valued as high as $50 million per year or in the sub $40 million per year range.
You could arguably value Watson’s number at $50 million per year. Watson never technically played a down that extended into his non-rookie contract years for the Texans under the terms of his extension he signed in 2020. The Texans paid him $20 million in new money for those years. His “veteran” years technically were to begin with the 2022 season. So if we add that raise to this new contract you get $250 million for five seasons, all of which was guaranteed. This might be the greatest job securing money for a player in NFL history.
The Texans will carry $16.2 million in dead money for Watson which will open up $24.2 million in cap room for the Texans. How they will use that is anyone’s guess. Given their recent history they will probably sign 8 players making $3 million a year. That aspect is really unimportant for them as they need to use these pieces to rebuild a franchise that was devastated by bad trades and bad contract decisions.
The Browns will need $35 million in cap space to execute this trade. We currently estimate that they have about $16 million. If they can not unload Baker Mayfield and his $18.828 million salary as part of this trade they will either have to quickly find a trade partner for him or make some other adjustments. They can open up around $15 million in a max restructure of Amari Cooper’s contract and beyond that would likely have to get Denzel Ward to tack void years onto his contract. Another option would be to release Case Keenum with the intent of signing him once Watson’s new contract and lower cap number are finalized. The Browns will open up $9.5 million in cap room on June 2nd so they have plenty of cap room coming in the future.
This trade should open up to discussion the concept of including no trade clauses in NFL contracts. For the most part these were clauses only in the contracts of quarterbacks because there was a feeling that teams would not move their franchise players. However we are now seeing a number of players demanding trades which puts teams in a very difficult spot. When a player can also dictate his destination you lose leverage in the trade talks. The Texans did something unique in that they would not allow teams to talk with Watson until they presented an offer to Houston that would be acceptable, which gave Houston more leverage, but in the future I would expect these clauses to either be gone or teams to go back to the days of using salary advances to try to recover money along with the picks as part of a trade.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.