“He’s going to learn from every rep,” Stefanski said. “Got to get this one out of the way. I know what the kid is capable of.”
The onus is on Stefanski to get that from Watson as soon as possible. The Browns did not trade three first-round draft picks and give Watson a fully guaranteed $230 million contract to allow for a slow ramp up. With the first game over, there will be urgency for Watson to improve as long as the Browns are alive in the playoff race. They face the Bengals next week, and the Ravens after that, both of which are substantially better teams than the Texans. Stefanski and the Browns have to allow Watson to work his way back as the starter, but more poor performances, especially if they are accompanied by losses, will inevitably lead to questions about whether Brissett would run the offense more efficiently, at least in the short term.
But the Browns anticipated Watson would have a suspension when they made the trade, so this was a decision for the long term. The long term started on Sunday, and the Browns and Watson have seemingly already gotten through what should be the most difficult part of the season. The suspension is over and so is what was likely the biggest wave of questions about it. It might not be entirely satisfying to everyone watching, but with a month left in the regular season, the focus will now turn almost exclusively to how far Watson can take the Browns.
Watson was all smiles after the game. He looked giddy and relieved when he taped a short video addressing Browns fans. And he spent a few extra moments on the field, signing jerseys to give to some of his former teammates, who greeted him with hugs and posed for pictures. Watson’s situation had cast a large cloud over the NFL. Nobody knows when it will entirely lift, but a game that invited many of us to find something else to watch sounded exactly like what Watson needed.
“Being traded was tough, but it was a business decision and it had to happen,” Watson said. “Being my first game back here in Houston was tough, walking into the stadium on the opposite side of the stadium, the locker room. It was different. I know exactly how those guys get ready for the game, how they do the pre-game talk. It was a lot of emotion, a lot of just trying to keep everything in. … It was tough. At the same time, it was very exciting to just be able to get my feet wet, just run around and take some hits and see everything at full speed.”