As Browns restart Deshaun Watson, speculation about his return to elite trajectory is fading

“Where is his arrow pointing?”

This is a question a general manager once asked me about a huge quarterback contract. At the time, the general manager’s team was in negotiations with its veteran starters. The negotiations are at a particularly contentious moment.Player is frustrated and his agent is angry the general manager is interpreting an offer that was significantly lower than free agency Can get the quarterback off the line. The GM said the impasse was about the “quarterback arrow.”

For contracts sought by agents, general managers want players’ arrows to reflect future growth potential.

“I wanted the arrow to point up, which is what his…”

The general manager drew a flat line in the air with his finger.

“…until it finally became like this…”

He turned his trajectory downward.

“…That’s when you have quarterback contract issues.”

When I think of NFL quarterbacks, I usually think of that conversation. That’s not to say it sounds particularly exciting. If anything, the point the general manager makes is simply to answer one question: What do you think about the quarterback’s future? Is he improving and getting better? Is he stagnating or regressing?

Of course, there are tons of numbers and situations that explain why arrows do what they do. But before you know that, there’s often an initial gut reaction before you get to the details. Name any veteran quarterback in the NFL right now and you’ll probably immediately think of his trajectory when it comes to his trajectory.

Matthew Stafford? Baker Mayfield? Jared Goff? Patrick Mahomes?

An arrow could go into your head.

Now do this for Deshaun Watson.

September 10, 2023; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates a second quarter touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium.Mandatory Photo Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Deshaun Watson has not played a full NFL season since 2020. (Scott Galvin/USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

If you limit yourself to his stellar second-half performance with the Browns, the arrow might point upward.

If you consider the statistical similarities between 2022 and 2023 (and strip out win-loss records that may be misleading), the arrow is probably flat.

From the broadest perspective—from his peak in Houston to Cleveland’s season-ending depth Wednesday – The arrow may point downward.

The fact that you can find some way to justify all three of a player’s arrows may be a sign that things aren’t going well.

Watson has time for browns this season.we defeated Tennessee Titans When he finally looked like the player Cleveland paid dearly for.second half vs. baltimore ravens When he’s as perfect as he is in a Browns uniform. arizona cardinals When he is working skillfully, efficiently, and relaxed.

Those are three of his past four starts. All in all, they are both good and will definitely improve in 2022. But Houston is still a long way off the cap hit in 2020, and even though Watson is only 28, it feels like a lifetime ago.

That’s likely because he’s played little football since that season and now won’t play again until the start of the 2024 season at best. If he can return from shoulder surgery at the start of the season, he will have played 12 games in three years and nine months. It’s an insane void that also includes a lengthy absence from in-season practice reps, from his absence from his final year in Houston to his first year-long suspension in Cleveland for alleged sexual misconduct, injuries It also put him on hold for more than half a season of training.

That’s a lot of missed football opportunities at a position that requires a lot of fine-tuning, chemistry and physical repetition.quarterback can once Going through nearly four years of various struggles and then rediscovering his previous elite form is questionable at best. Examples of this abound throughout league history.

Does anyone remember Daunte Culpepper? In 2004, he had one of the greatest quarterback seasons in NFL history, back when the league wasn’t an infinitely rolling pinball machine. In 16 games, he passed for 4,717 yards and set league records with 5,123 total passing and rushing yards. He also threw for 39 touchdowns and rushed for 2 touchdowns. He was 27 years old, one of the most exciting players in the league and seemed to be heading into the Hall of Fame. Everything was before his eyes.

A year later, he suffered a serious knee injury and everything was different. He played five more seasons and never threw more than six touchdown passes in a year.His relationship with the coaching staff and front office soured, and he was eventually traded to miami dolphinsUltimately choosing to trade Culpeper instead of signing Drew Brees. It was a disastrous mistake that still irritates then-head coach Nick Saban to this day.Oakland Raiders and detroit lions Both men tried to revive Culpepper’s career, but were unsuccessful.

It’s a story worth pondering, with Watson undergoing throwing shoulder surgery. The Browns are certainly confident everything will work out. But it wasn’t that long ago that Cam Newton’s shoulder issue in Carolina was expected to be healed without complications. They didn’t, and he never regained MVP form.

Watson has suffered a series of injuries this season. He was beaten. And the trend of accepting punishment is nothing new. He also took a lot of hits against the Texans… a lot of that was due to roster flaws, but the way Watson played also took its toll. He will now undergo ACL repairs in both knees (one in college, the other with the Texans) and surgery on his throwing shoulder.

Maybe he’ll be back with the Browns in 2024 and everything will work out. At the very least, he’ll have nearly three years to mentally process and study Kevin Stefanski’s offense. That’s assuming the shift ends in 2023 in a way that doesn’t lead to ownership, which doesn’t appear to be a hammerlock guarantee just yet.But even so, Watson still has to accept time 2023 and turn them into stretch 2024. He has to stay healthy. He has to practice and play a full season of meaningful football. Here is a list.

Assuming Watson returns to the field at the start of the 2024 season, it will be an extremely chaotic 44 months from his final start with the Texans. Recent injuries, not-so-recent civil lawsuits, a suspension with the NFL over his personal conduct, struggles on the field — not to mention the ever-present history-making contract and slew of trade assets have all added to the moon-sized boulder Pressed on his shoulders.

With all of this in mind, to answer the question about Watson again: Where is his arrow pointing?

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