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March 28, 2022

John McMullen: Why being left out of the Deshaun Watson chase helped Eagles

Last week wasn't a productive one if my goal was to become popular in the Eagles’ echo chamber around Delaware Valley.

Just like real and far more significant societal issues, there are rules to roam the virtual public square and they are enforced by the high-school bullies of Generation Alpha, ironically often the bullied in actual hallways of previous generations.

These keyboard warriors are as strict and as ruthless as any authoritarian, champing at the bit to unleash an army of a superpower cultivated behind the curtain of anonymity.

Transgressions can be as simple as pointing out you probably don’t want to count on Quez Watkins as your WR2 or assessing that Derek Barnett is actually a solid rotational end.

The secret to disarmament, meanwhile, is common sense and the mute button.

What got the most angst and generated the most hate mail was Deshaun Watson, however.

The pure football people didn’t seem to understand my comment wasn’t a validation of the organization’s inability to get a seat at the table in the Watson sweepstakes. Nor were those who tie themselves in knots to presume their favorite team has a better QB than they really do, happy about what they considered a back-handed endorsement of Jalen Hurts.

Upsetting warring factions from both sides occupying disputed territory of a debate over a subject that reaches far beyond football probably means you’re doing it right, though.

The polarizing but ultra-talented Watson was introduced in Cleveland last week, fresh off signing the first five-year, fully guaranteed contract in NFL history, admittedly a bad look for a league that has fought against that kind of financial outlay for generations.

The Eagles were never forced to make that decision and after watching an unrepentant Watson come across poorly in his opening press conference with the Browns as owner Jimmy Haslam and coach Kevin Stefanski laid the groundwork for plausible deniability by pointing to GM Andrew Berry, the ex-Eagles executive, as the impetus for the decision.

Watson had been cleared from potential criminal charges by two different South Texas grand juries over the past few weeks, not an insignificant development because indictments are not difficult to get. That was the impetus that sped up Watson's move out of Houston and had NFL teams lining up to ramp up the tolerance level to 10 since Watson’s talent is worthy of Spinal Tap’s amplifier.

Honestly, it would be nice if everyone could speak honestly in these types of situations.

The Cleveland brass could point out that 26-year-old proven QBs with top-five level talent never hit the market so the organization pounced on the opportunity and paid a Midwestern tax to get the kid out of the Southeast where he would prepare to play. Browns execs could also admit they understood the public-relations salvo that has been unleashed was coming and that they are prepared to weather the storm that will resemble Samuel Clemens’ cliche if Watson starts winning as expected.

The biggest problem is that Watson himself failed to play along in the most important act of this morality play.

“It’s hard for me to say the counseling part because I don’t have a problem,” Watson noted. “I don’t have an issue. That’s what I’ve been saying from the beginning.”

There were some attempts at soft-pedaling the sheer number of massage therapists Watson employed, over 40 when you combine those claiming misconduct and others who actually defended the QB, a number that, to be kind, is not the standard operating procedure of most professional athletes even if they have the financial means.

Watson also went about the hiring process in a completely unprofessional manner, often relying on Instagram, something he tried to spin as out-of-touch thinking.

“I can’t get too far into detail because there is an ongoing investigation still, but I can say that with this day and age, especially with my age group, social media is a big business part that goes into it,” Watson said. “That is a factor into it, but as far as the details, I can’t get too far into it because there is an investigation going on. Hopefully, once everything is resolved, I can speak freely on it.”

Overall, though, Watson seemed completely unrepentant to those in the court of public opinion ready to assess their verdict on the specter of 22 civil allegations of sexual misconduct in the “Me Too” era.

"I don’t have any regrets," Watson said. "Like I said, the things off the field right now that came up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these people are alleging."

He also even strangely tried to spin wanting to live in Cleveland of all places, straining credulity even further.

“Actually, it had nothing to do with the contract,” Watson said regarding his selection of the Browns. “I did not know about the contract until I told my agent that I wanted to come and be a Cleveland Brown. That was secondary.”

At the end of the day, though, save for his professed love of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Browns gave Watson $230 million with every penny of it safely tucked away into escrow and he couldn’t even stick to the script of this tiresome tap dance cultivated by weirdos who value pandering over truth.

The problem with that is simple.

Even if you want to give Watson the benefit of every doubt, every step of the way in this soap opera and try to paint him as the victim of a grifter in Tony Buzbee rounding up 22 different extortionists to squeeze money out of a young, very rich man, Watson damn sure should have some regrets.

He put himself, his former team, and all of his ex-teammates into this position as the face of a franchise and on-field leader with poor decision-making.

Remember, Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin did not dispute that the former Texans quarterback ended up having sexual relations with massage therapists that he essentially had no prior relationship with, instead turning the defense into a “he said, she said” debate of consensual activity, something always difficult to prove with no video or audio proof.

When Watson says “no regrets” to a situation that in the best-case scenario for him left him open to multiple money grabs and a year away from the game is not the kind of decision making anyone should want to lead their team at the stipend Cleveland is playing.

John McMullen is a contributor to, and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Media. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at Follow John on Twitter here.