Deshaun Watson Contract Details: Why is His Salary Only $1 Million in 2023?

When the Browns acquired troubled Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in a deal during the 2022 NFL offseason, it was a risky gamble. Even though the 26-year-old passer was the subject of over 20 lawsuits alleging him of sexual assault and misconduct, clubs were still interested in signing him.

In the end, Cleveland won the sweepstakes for his services, but there were still a lot of uncertainties for the franchise. Could Watson participate in 2022? If so, when would he make his debut? And how will he perform having missed the entire 2021 season due to a disagreement with Houston?

These were all valid inquiries, and they were eventually resolved on Thursday. After breaking the NFL’s behavior rules, Watson will be suspended for 11 weeks, but he will be allowed to play in 2022, starting in Week 13 against the Texans.

Fans are asking another important question regarding Watson now that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to the punishment. How much will the suspension cost him and how much will the Browns be able to save?

Watson’s contract features a unique arrangement that appears to have been devised to lessen the effect a suspension may have on his earning potential. Here is an explanation of Watson’s contract during his break.

Deshaun Watson Contract

After being traded from the Texans to the Browns, Watson inked a $230 million, five-year contract. Given the uncertainty surrounding Watson’s legal condition at the time of the transaction, the entirety of his contract is guaranteed, which was closely examined at the time of the trade.

Why is Deshaun Watson’s Salary Only $1 Million in 2022?

In 2022, Watson consented to accept a basic salary of just $1.035 million. How come he did that? Cleveland recently signed several veterans to long-term contracts with base salaries on the low end of the spectrum in the first year. Watson’s first-year compensation, however, might have been a covert ploy to successfully neutralize the effects of a suspension on Watson’s overall earnings.

Deshaun Watson Contract Details
Deshaun Watson Contract Details

Watson would have lost merely 1/18 of his annual base salary per week if he had been suspended for a shorter period (over 17 games and a bye week). Given his modest base salary, Watson’s original six-game suspension in 2022 will only cost him $345,000. He will have to forfeit $632,500 if suspended for 11 games.

Watson would stand to lose around $28.11 million if his basic salary were the same as in the other four years of the contract, which is $46 million. As a result, the Browns saved the quarterback more than $28 million by paying Watson’s base salary. However, Watson is still receiving $46 million in pay for the 2022 season.

How is that even doable? In addition to his $1.035 million base salary, the Browns paid Watson a signing bonus of $44.965 million, giving him a total contract worth $46 million for 2022. In actuality, Watson was slated to earn $46 million in 2022, regardless of what happened.

However, paying him a salary much lower than that protected him from losing some money while suspended.

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What Happens to Deshaun Watson’s Contract When He is Suspended?

The length of Watson’s suspension determined what would happen to his contract. As previously indicated, if Watson is suspended for a period shorter than an entire year, he forfeits 1/18 of his weekly base income. Because of this, he will only lose $632,500 in 2022.

Watson’s contract position, however, would have been significantly different if the suspension had been for an entire year. NFL contracts must expire after a year if a player is suspended for longer than a year. Why does that matter? Watson’s contract would essentially be delayed by a year.

Any payment due to him in 2022 would be postponed to 2023 by the NFL, and the same would be done for each succeeding year. Therefore, if Watson were suspended for an entire year, the Browns wouldn’t have had to pay him anything in 2022. However, according to CBS Sports’ Joel Corry, the team would still owe $8.933 million of Watson’s prorated signing bonus in 2022.

Therefore, Watson’s foregone basic salary would only result in a cap space reduction for the Browns of $1.035 million. Watson’s deal was advanced a year so that the Browns would have him under contract from 2023 to 2027 instead of 2022 to 2026. Watson would not have received compensation in 2022 due to this penalty, and he would have had to compete for a year while earning a basic salary of $1.035 million.

Additionally, it would delay the possibility of his becoming a free agent by a year, which would be detrimental to him as he searches for another huge contract. Watson’s full-year sentence would only have saved the Browns $1.035 million, so it wouldn’t significantly reduce their available cap space.

Although Watson was suspended in 2022, they still have over $49 million in cap room so they might have looked for a temporary solution at quarterback.

Does Deshaun Watson Forfeit Any Salary With a Suspension?

Even though Watson’s $230 million contract was fully guaranteed, many people are unsure how much money the Browns will recoup if he is suspended. Simply put, they won’t be able to.

According to CBS Sports ‘ Joel Corry, Watson’s contract with the Browns contains wording that forbids the team from requesting a refund of any of his salary or signing bonus. The formal reason for Watson’s contract is listed below, per Corry.

If the following occurs:… (iii) Player is suspended solely for reasons that are disclosed to the club in writing under paragraph 42, which results in the Player’s being unavailable to the club solely for games during the 2022 or 2023 NFL League Years, it shall not constitute a failure or refusal to practice with the club, and Player shall not be in default.

The Browns might have demanded Watson to refund his $8.933 million prorated signing bonus for 2022 if he had been suspended for an entire season if Watson’s contract had not included this clause. Additionally, they may have sought a prorated portion of it back (the number of games suspended divided by 18) given that he was arrested for a part of the season.

Unfortunately, while negotiating a contract extension with the Browns, Watson made sure to safeguard his finances and himself. Therefore, besides the $345,000 from Watson’s $1.035 million base salary, the Browns will have few options for recovering the money they budgeted for him even if he is out.


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