Deshaun Watson stiff-arms Falcons, elects to play for the Browns

The pull of playing at home apparently wasn’t enough to sway Deshaun Watson to waive his no-trade clause and become a Falcon, a team he once served as a ball boy while in high school.

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In a stunning turn of events, Watson elected to take a trade to the Cleveland Browns and is set to sign a new lucrative contract, according to multiple reports from NFL Media and ESPN that were confirmed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Watson, who didn’t play last season after requesting a trade while battling allegations in 22 sexual misconduct cases, is set to receive a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million deal from the Browns, who are moving on from quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Cleveland reportedly was out of the running Thursday, but they kept pursing Watson. Also, Carolina was eliminated and the decision reportedly was down to Saints and the Falcons, who met with Watson on Wednesday.

The presentation went well, and the Falcons were considered the leader, but very likely couldn’t match the contract money, and the Falcons were considered the weaker of the three teams. The Browns and the Saints are a season removed from going to the playoffs.

The Falcons, who are rebuilding, have not been to the playoffs since 2017.

The Falcons, who know they must have a succession plan at quarterback because Matt Ryan is set to turn 37 in May, pursued Watson.

Watson played at Gainesville High and Clemson and was an AJC Super 11 player.

Any deal for the Falcons would have been complicated and would have required a departure from Ryan, who’s been with the team for 14 seasons. He arguably is the greatest Falcons quarterback of all-time, as he has guided the team to a Super Bowl appearance and became the first player in franchise history to win the NFL’s MVP award, for the 2016 season.

The Falcons have a policy of not commenting on potential trades.

However, Falcons owner Arthur Blank discussed the possibility of a succession plan at quarterback with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during Super Bowl week. General manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith were non-committal when asked about Ryan at the NFL scouting combine.

The Falcons, who hold the eighth pick in the coming NFL draft, passed on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the draft last year.

Ryan has two years remaining on his contract. Ryan’s current salary-cap numbers are $48.6 million for 2022 and $43.6 million for 2023. The team has worked a restructured deal, but has not filed it with the league.

Interest intensified in Watson after a Harris County grand jury declined to bring criminal charges in relation to sexual-harassment allegations. He is still faces allegations in 22 civil lawsuits.

“Our fans should look for a succession plan,” Blank said during Super Bowl week. “And I think that’s not improper. It doesn’t show a lack of confidence in Matt, but, you know, I mean, Father Time will get to all of us.”

The Falcons had the fourth overall pick last season. Quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance went first, second and third overall before the Falcons picked tight end Kyle Pitts.

“It’s just the way it works,” Blank said. “(The) human body isn’t designed to live to 150. So, Matt has given us great 14 years since 2008. Still playing at a very high level. ... I think it’s a credit to Matt and coach Smith that they work very well together.”

Ryan, despite being sacked more than 40 times or more over the past four seasons, wants to keep playing. He’s stated in the past that he wants to play into his 40s.

The Falcons could have their pick of the quarterback class with the eighth pick. Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, who came on late in his career, was considered the top quarterback in the draft class entering the combine. Mississippi’s Matt Corral, Liberty’s Malik Willis (Roswell and Westlake High), North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder are considered among the top five quarterback prospects.

Ryan and Smith, who calls his own plays, blended together well last season as the Falcons overachieved and finished 7-10 despite the poor blocking and lack of offensive weapons.

“I think he’s been able to put in place coach Smith’s offensive system,” Blank said. “Matt has done very well on it. So, you know, I think we’ll continue to assess that and continue to look at it.

“Matt looks at it from his standpoint from his health and family. We look at it as well as in terms of we have an obligation to the franchise and to our fans to make sure we have a smooth transition from Matt Ryan to the next great quarterback.”

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