The Browns aren't just surrendering a lucrative draft haul to acquire embattled Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, reportedly agreeing Friday to send Houston a package of picks, including three first-rounders, despite Watson still facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault or misconduct. They're not just fully guaranteeing a reported five-year, $230 million contract for Watson, making him the NFL's second-highest-paid QB behind only Aaron Rodgers. They've also built Watson's new deal to help the QB avoid severe financial penalties in the event he's suspended in 2022, according to NFL Media.
Watson's 2022 pay will come almost exclusively in the form of a signing bonus, per Tom Pelissero, specifically a $45 million bonus. His actual base salary, meanwhile, will be listed as just $1 million. This setup was specifically proposed by Watson's agent, David Mulugheta, according to NFL Media's Mike Garafolo, in negotiations with teams interested in acquiring Watson from the Texans. And it pertains to the possibility -- or probability -- of Watson facing NFL-imposed discipline as a result of his ongoing legal situation. If he were to be suspended in 2022, his $1M base salary would dictate that he'd lose roughly $55,555 per lost game -- a small fraction of his total earnings.
It's not unusual for QBs to carry low base salaries despite lucrative contracts. Aaron Rodgers, for example, carries a base salary of just $1.15 million into 2022 despite reportedly signing what amounts to a three-year, $150 million extension this offseason. Unlike Rodgers, however, Watson's deal hasn't been reworked primarily for salary-cap purposes, as NFL Media suggests, but rather to counter the likelihood the QB will be suspended for at least part of the 2022 season.
The NFL, for what it's worth, indicated in a statement Friday that Watson's reported trade has "no effect on the NFL's ongoing and comprehensive investigation of the serious allegations" against the QB. The league can impose a suspension related to violations of its personal conduct policy even if no criminal charges have been filed.