Browns' draft still affected by Deshaun Watson trade. Team without first-round pick for 3rd year

CLEVELAND (AP) — The NFL draft used to be a major event in Cleveland, viewed as a springtime Super Bowl for a team that's never been to one.

There was a buzz. It's gone.

The team's franchise-shifting trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson two years ago has once again made the three-day draft almost an afterthought.

Like fans across the league, the Browns will watch as players get picked on Day One again.

For the third straight year, Cleveland is without a first-round pick after shipping three of them along with a handful of late-round selections to the Houston Texas in 2022 for Watson, who has yet to deliver a championship or even a playoff win.

Watson's two seasons with the Browns have been, well, incomplete.

He's played in just 12 games because of a league suspension and right shoulder injury, and there's no way to predict if he'll ever get back to Pro Bowl form, though he showed positive signs before getting hurt last season.

The team's massive investment into Watson affects every move the Browns make, and its reverberations are felt strongest on draft weekend.

As part of the blockbuster deal, Cleveland dealt its first- and fourth-round picks in 2024 to Houston for Watson, meaning the team's first selection won't be until the second round at No. 54 and they currently have just two picks in the first 150.

They'll next pick at No. 85 (third round) but not again until No. 156 (fifth round), a 71-player gap that will test the limits of general manager Andrew Berry's patience.

His track record is not to sit still.

“You guys probably know me well enough that we can always be moving around,” Berry told reporters at the owner's meetings.

Berry recently traded fifth- and sixth-round picks to Denver for wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, whose arrival lessens the likelihood the Browns will use No. 54 — or move up — to get another playmaker for Watson.

However, that doesn't mean Berry won't consider it.

Everything is on the table for the Browns as they head into a make-or-break season, and owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam have green lighted their front office to do whatever it feels necessary to make the team better.


Linebacker has been a somewhat neglected spot for the Browns, who had the league's top-rated defense last season before a dreadful showing in a playoff loss to Houston.

The team's decision not to re-sign signal-caller Anthony Walker Jr. or Sione Takitaki has created a substantial void in experience and leadership. The Browns signed free agent Jordan Hicks to a two-year deal, but he'll be 32 in June and there's not enough depth to withstand the inevitable injuries.


The quarterback room has gone from sparse to crowded. But as the Browns learned the hard way last season, you can never have enough QBs.

Watson's r ecovery from shoulder surgery seems to be on schedule, but the team's decision to sign Jameis Winston and Tyler Huntley as backups raised some eyebrows. At the very least, they're proven insurance policies in case Watson isn't ready or goes down again.

Joe Flacco came off the couch to save the Browns and lead them to the playoffs last season, but Berry wanted to have a safer plan heading into 2024.


It might be time for the Browns to do some rebuilding of their offensive line, which has been a strength in recent years.

Injuries to starting tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. put the team in a serious bind last season, and the situation worsened when rookie Dawand Jones, who did a remarkable job filling in for Conklin, went down with a knee injury.

Conklin is expected to return, but the 29-year-old has been slowed by injuries in recent years. While Wills was playing well before he got hurt, he's been inconsistent since being drafted 10th overall in 2020.

Pro Bowlers Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller are two of the league's most agile guards and run blockers. But there isn't much quality depth behind them, and the Browns need to start thinking long term up front.


Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II has spent the offseason deflecting rumors.

His name has been mentioned in trade rumors for months, and they've only intensified as the draft approaches. Newsome has mostly been able to block them out.

“I don’t pay attention, but obviously my family and stuff tell me and ask me,” the 2021 first-round pick said this week. ”I feel like AB (Berry) and the ownership and all my coaches know what I’m capable of, they know what I bring to this team."

The Browns have until May 2 to pick up the $13.7 million fifth-year option on his rookie contract. It's also possible they could agree to a long-term extension.

“That’s the goal,” Newsome said. "I want to be one of those guys that sticks around one place their whole career. So if God be willing, I’ll be here for a long time.”