Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans in action against the...

Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans in action against the Tennessee Titans during a game at NRG Stadium on Jan. 3, 2021 in Houston.  Credit: TNS/Carmen Mandato

Deshaun Watson may have found his new team, but a cloud of controversy and suspicion will continue to hover over the 26-year-old quarterback — maybe for the rest of his career.

A week after a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, decided not to indict Watson on nine criminal complaints accusing him of indecent acts during numerous sessions with massage therapists, Watson approved a trade from the Texans to the Browns on Friday. Despite earlier reports that he had spurned the Browns’ offer, Watson agreed to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract.

It was a stunning turn of events that the Browns hope will solve a problem that has hamstrung the franchise throughout more than two decades since its 1999 return to Cleveland.

But success is by no means guaranteed, and Watson’s tenure in Cleveland will be one of the most closely scrutinized deals in NFL history.

His debut remains a mystery, because he still faces the likelihood of punishment from the NFL. Despite being cleared of criminal charges, he faces 22 civil lawsuits from women alleging harassment and/or sexual assault. He has yet to settle any of the cases, and the NFL is conducting its own investigation.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to discipline him under terms of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and he likely faces at least a six-game suspension. It could be longer.

The Browns clearly understand the potential sanctions, but that didn’t stop them from offering the richest guaranteed contract in NFL history. They ultimately convinced Watson to take that offer after he initially told them that he had narrowed his choices to the Saints and Falcons. The Panthers also had engaged in intense negotiations but were told earlier in the week that Watson would not waive his no-trade clause to play for Carolina.

Watson spent the entire 2021 on the Texans’ inactive list on game days, although the team paid him his full salary. It was Watson who asked not to be activated, because he already had told the Texans in the offseason that he would refuse to play for them despite the fact that he had agreed to a new contract before the 2020 season.

The Browns threw caution to the wind and cast their lot with Watson as their latest quarterback savior. They’d hoped that Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, could lead the team to its first Super Bowl championship. Mayfield, however, was barely above mediocre for most of his run in Cleveland, and after the Browns declined to extend his contract in 2021, it was clear that they were reluctant to make a long-term commitment.

That commitment is now over. Watson eventually will become the Browns’ 32nd quarterback to start a game — possibly the 33rd, depending on who plays in his absence during his expected suspension. The Browns desperately hope he can deliver a title, and team owner Jimmy Haslam has staked $230 million on that gamble.

But he does so for a player who must show the ability not only to play football at a high level but to address a problem that will be a part of his legacy.

An NFL week unlike any other

Tom Brady’s retirement ended after 40 days.

Aaron Rodgers ended any lingering questions about his future in Green Bay by signing a $50 million-a-year deal to remain the Packers’ quarterback.

Just days later, he lost his favorite wide receiver, Davante Adams, who was traded to the Raiders for first- and second-round picks.

Russell Wilson once proclaimed he wanted to finish his career where it started, in Seattle. Then the Seahawks traded the best quarterback in franchise history to the Broncos.

Denver Broncos new starting quarterback Russell Wilson holds up his...

Denver Broncos new starting quarterback Russell Wilson holds up his jersey after a news conference Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at the team's headquarters in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Credit: AP/David Zalubowski

The historically inept Jaguars splurged on the free-agent market to help No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, signing guard Brandon Scherff, wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas came through on his promise to be aggressive in free agency by signing guard Laken Tomlinson, tight end C.J. Uzomah, cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead.

Carson Wentz is the face of the Washington Commanders.

And now the Watson trade.

A big week in an offseason? Maybe one of the biggest ever.

Douglas plays it smart

It is an incredibly important year for Douglas, the Jets’ third-year GM. After disentangling the dysfunction he inherited after the Mike Maccagnan/Todd Bowles alliance fell apart and after Adam Gase worked himself into coaching oblivion with Sam Darnold, Douglas is in the critical portion of his rebuild. He has a worthy coach in Robert Saleh, and now he must hope that Zach Wilson will take a quantum leap forward in Year 2.

Toward that end, Douglas used this first phase of the offseason to surround Wilson with more talent, starting with Tomlinson, the outstanding veteran guard from San Francisco, and Uzomah, who finally gives the Jets a legitimate tight end. And re-signing receiver/returner Braxton Berrios on a two-year deal was worth it.

But it wasn’t just the offense Douglas needed to address; it was the Jets’ shell of a defense, which was overmatched far too often last year. He now has a reliable cover cornerback in Reed and a versatile safety in former Bucs standout Whitehead. Texans linebacker Jacob Martin was another smart signing.

Another thing to like about the moves: Douglas didn’t overspend on anyone. Jets fans have seen far too often that you can’t buy your way out of mediocrity with an offseason spending splurge, and even though Douglas had free reign with the salary cap, he didn’t waste money needlessly. Remember, this team still is at least a year or two away from contending — and only if Wilson blossoms — so there’s no need to act as if he’s one or two players away.

Now for a word of caution: Just because Douglas addressed a number of needs with fiscal responsibility doesn’t mean the Jets’ problems have been solved. Far from it. The core of this team still must come from the draft, meaning Wilson, wide receiver Elijah Moore, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and others need to develop into big-time players over the long haul. Supplementing the core through free agency is fine, but this team will rise or fall depending on what Douglas does in the entirety of the roster-building process, not just in March.

He has put himself in a position of strength heading into next month’s draft, and the roster needs aren’t quite as crushing now as they were after the season ended. It’s a draft rich in edge rushers, receivers and offensive linemen, and Douglas knows he needs to make smart decisions at all three positions.

Good start for now. More needed later. Much more.

Trouble ahead for Giants

Joe Schoen warned about the Giants’ difficult salary cap situation when he was named their general manager in January. But not until he had to make decisions about complying with the cap did Giants fans realize just how difficult that situation was.

Dave Gettleman left behind not only a lousy team and a barren roster but also a nightmarish cap situation. It’s one thing to have salary issues with a winning team, but when you leave behind a 4-13 nightmare and a bloated cap, that’s about as bad as it can get. And make no mistake: The Giants are in trouble.

Schoen couldn’t be aggressive in free agency because he had little money to spend, so the best he could do was dip into the lower reaches of the talent pool and come away with offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Mark Glowinski. He also got a serviceable backup quarterback in Tyrod Taylor in case Daniel Jones faces more injury problems.

It will take Schoen at least another year or two to fully extricate his team from salary cap hell, meaning coach Brian Daboll will need time to field a competitive team — more time than Giants fans might realize.

Packers were right to trade Adams

There’s no question Rodgers will be negatively impacted by not having his go-to receiver on the roster this year. But with Adams already telling the team he’d refuse to play on the franchise tag this year and with Rodgers’ $50 million-a-year deal leading to some tough decisions, the Packers played this one correctly by dealing Adams to Las Vegas in exchange for two premium draft picks.

Adams will turn 30 in December, he’s on his third contract — a five-year, $141 million deal from the Raiders — and Rodgers can continue to thrive on a team that no doubt will look to bolster the position through free agency, trades and the draft. The Packers are one of the league’s best franchises at developing players, so there’s no reason to think they can’t use the money they didn’t have to pay Adams to bring in quality talent. Jarvis Landry and Julio Jones are two veterans who immediately come to mind, and the Packers no doubt will dip into a draft filled with excellent receiving talent.

The Raiders? They get a star player to compete in the best division in football. Adams has long dreamed of playing for the Raiders, and that wish has come true. Which is great news for quarterback Derek Carr, who can use an elite wideout to compete against the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Wilson in the AFC West.

Wentz with a third — and final — chance

The Eagles paid a king’s ransom in trading up to No. 2 overall to take Carson Wentz in the 2016 draft, and he was in MVP form in 2018 before his season ended with a knee injury. But Wentz’s fall from grace led to last year’s trade to the Colts, thanks in large part to coach Frank Reich vouching for the quarterback after their time together in Philly. And after failing to lead the Colts to the playoffs, punctuated by a devastating season-ending loss to the pitiful Jaguars, he now is with the quarterback-starved Commanders.

Had Washington’s initial plan come through, Wilson would have been the quarterback. But Wilson wound up with Denver, and after Washington decided not to pursue Watson, Wentz is the consolation prize.

Wentz is excited about the new opportunity, and he dived right in by wearing a bright gold jacket and a burgundy shirt — Commanders colors — to his introductory news conference.

"You see life through a different lens," he said of joining his new team. "Stepping into something new, being a Commander, a new era. It’s given me a clear vision on where this organization wants to go."

The organization wants to go to the playoffs, of course, and it’s uncertain whether Wentz has what it will take to get there. The Cowboys remain the class of the NFC East, but the Eagles, who made it to the postseason last year as a wild-card team, aren’t far behind.

Wentz acknowledged the criticism he received last year — "There is truth in some things," he said — but also said he’ll do his best to tune out the noise. "If we try to combat every report," he said, "we run out of things to say. I just try to be myself."

He hopes that’s good enough for his new team. If not, it’s almost certainly his last chance to be an NFL starter.

A division unlike any other

The AFC West already was a great division, with Kansas City and Mahomes going to four straight AFC Championship Games, the much-improved Chargers making meaningful progress with Herbert at quarterback and the Raiders reaching the postseason last year behind Carr in a magnificent recovery from the controversy set off after Jon Gruden’s racist and homophobic emails led to his ouster. And now the Broncos have a championship-caliber quarterback in Wilson.

But it doesn’t end there.

The Chargers loaded up on the pass rush by trading for Bears star Khalil Mack to pair him with Joey Bosa and signed free-agent cornerback J.C. Jackson from the Patriots. The Broncos signed Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory to a free-agent deal. And Kansas City landed free-agent safety Justin Reid from the Texans.

In the span of a week, the best division in football just got better. A lot better.

It might turn out to be one of the best divisions in NFL history.

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