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NFL free agency: Deshaun Watson recruiting top WR for Browns

Talented wide receiver would certainly provide a boost to this offense

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

One thing the Cleveland Browns plan to do on offense in 2024 is throw the ball more. What that takes is a stable offensive line, capable receivers, and a dependable quarterback.

Deshaun Watson is the Browns quarterback. He has three Pro Bowls on his mantle. And by the time training camp rolls around, he will be completely healthy from this shoulder surgery.

Watson recently appeared on a podcast and suggested that Cincinnati Bengals free agent wide receiver Tee Higgins should sign with the Browns.

The podcast host is Quincy Avery, who is Watson’s personal QB coach. Avery set up Watson with the question:

“The Browns should grab my dog Tee Higgins. Hello?”

Watson then jumped at the subject matter. His response:

“We wanna pass the ball. That’s what we gonna do. We gonna pass it a lot. And we gonna take good care of you.”

You can see the interaction as shared here:

Higgins (6’-4”, 219 pounds) is positioned at WR2 with the Bengals and would slide into the same role with the Browns since Amari Cooper is the lead pass catcher. He has been with Cincinnati for four seasons and his contract is up unless the Bengals offer an extension before the league year begins on March 13.

Higgins was drafted in the second round out of Clemson in 2020.

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Even though Higgins is a fine receiver who has an excellent catch radius, the Browns already have Elijah Moore on the roster, a former second-round pick of the New York Jets. Last year, Cedric Tillman was drafted in the third round and David Bell is the former Big-10 Conference Receiver of the Year. Michael Woods was injured last year and was subsequently suspended for the first six games of 2024 for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Free agent receivers include Marquise Goodwin and two players who double as kick returners: James Proche and Jakeem Grant. Jaelon Darden signed a reserve/future deal In January while Austin Watkins inked a reserve/future contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watson was a legitimate college football star who orchestrated a National Championship for Clemson in 2016 before being taken with the 12th pick in the first round of the NFL draft by the Houston Texans. So, while Watson may indeed be looking for a Clemson connection, it may appear Cleveland’s receiver room is somewhat full.

Regarding the Clemson ties, Watson said:

“We didn’t get to play with each other but this is our opportunity. So, like man come on over to The Land.”

On the surface, this may appear to be a sound solution to the receiver room even though the need might not be there. Moore and Goodwin certainly underproduced whereas Tillman and Bell were used sparingly.

It would be interesting to see Cooper lined up on one side, Moore or Bell in the slot, and Higgins on the other side. Like Tillman who stands 6’-3” and weighs 215 pounds, Higgins is a big-bodied receiver who gives smaller defensive backs fits. He also runs a 4.59 in the 40.

Avery then suggested:

“(Higgins) ain’t gotta leave the state.”

As far as stats, Higgins had his worst output as a pro in 2023. He played in just 12 games and had 656 yards on 42 receptions with five touchdowns. He suffered a hamstring injury during practice and missed several games. Upon his return in Week 17, he re-aggravated the hammy and was out for the finale against the Browns.

Higgins’ targets, receptions, yards gained, and touchdowns were a career low for him this past season. In his first three seasons, he gained 908, 1,091, and 1,029 yards. All three years his targets were over 100 whereas he had just 76 this season.

His career totals with Cincinnati include 53 starts (out of 58 games), 403 targets, 257 receptions for 3,684 yards, 24 touchdowns, and a 14.3 yards per reception average. He averages just 3.1 yards after catch (YAC).

Seattle Seahawks v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

As a rookie taken in the second round, Higgins inked a four-year $8.687 million deal with a $3.878 million signing bonus with $5.882 million in guaranteed funds. His base salary in 2023 was $2.993 million. He is projected to get franchise tagged at over $20 million but top receivers have salaries of $24 million or more per year.

Then there is the salary cap situation for Cleveland. The Browns currently are $19,502,046 over the cap but have the flexibility to add a ton of space.

GM Andrew Berry has been successful in the past with restructuring contracts to make more room. A quick look at the salaries due in 2024 includes Watson at $46 million, Cooper: at $20 million, Denzel Ward: at $15.324 million, Jed Wills: at $14.124 million, and Nick Chubb: at $11.775 million as the top of the payment trail.

Of course, in today’s NFL, the cap can be manipulated any way a club wants it to be.

There is a boatload of Browns free agents the franchise would certainly love to re-sign going forward, especially for the defense. Then the next thing you know, it is the free agency period followed by the April NFL college draft all of which require funding.

RELATED: LIST OF BROWNS FREE AGENTS

As much as Watson may be recruiting Higgins from a division foe, currently, the books reveal that the coffers are indeed sparse.

Last year before training camp, there were rumors that the Bengals might trade Higgins knowing he was playing in the final year of his contract.

And to top it all off, the Bengals have the opportunity to retain Higgins by slapping the franchise tag on him if they can’t work out an amicable extension. Which they just might do if they suspect that Higgins would prefer coming to Cleveland to play with Watson.

Watson also said:

“The Cleveland fans are gonna love you to death, and we got the Clemson ties.”

The problem is that Clemson isn’t paying the bills, and the Browns don’t appear to have any room to pay another high-priced player who had an off-year and was repeatedly injured.

Then again, if Watson wants Higgins so badly, maybe he will renegotiate his contract and take less money so that the magic can happen.


If available, should the Browns pay top dollar for Higgins in free agency?