During the Browns' locker room cleanout Monday in Berea, QB Deshaun Watson did his best to look at the positives of his shortened first season in Cleveland.
It didn't end with a trip to the playoffs like the Browns had hoped, and it didn't end on a good note, either, after a gutting 28-14 loss to the Steelers in the final game of the season. The Browns went 3-3 with Watson as their starter, a record that showed the glimpses of how good they can be when Watson is at his best — and also how there's an abundance of areas where they need to improve for 2023.
Watson acknowledged that while the six games weren't all as smooth as he would've liked, he was still pleased to return to the field and felt optimistic about what's ahead.
"Of course, it didn't meet the expectations," he said. "Of course, we wanted to find our way into the playoffs and have extended games and an opportunity to clinch the division and all of these different things. As far as just being able to play football again, get out there and knock some rust off, have some ups, have some downs and have some in-betweens and kind of really get the feel of how we want to operate as an offense and what we look forward to as the Cleveland Browns, it definitely did that.
"I'm excited. I'm definitely looking forward to this future for the Cleveland Browns, the organization and this team."
Check out photos of the Browns players, coaches and front office staff talking with the media and cleaning out their lockers at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 9, 2023
In the six games after his 11-game suspension ended, Watson completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,102 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. His best moments happened in the second half of the Browns' 24-10 win over the Commanders in Week 17, where he threw three touchdowns on three straight drives.
After struggling to replicate that success Sunday in Pittsburgh, Watson, who threw two interceptions in the game, acknowledged that he knew entering the season he faced a steep slope toward re-discovering the same consistency as a passer he had found in the first four years of his career.
"I knew it was going to be challenging," Watson said after the Steelers game. "I knew I wasn't going to walk in and just be the MVP of the NFL. I've got a lot of work to put in. I've put in a lot of work, and I have a long way to go."
On Monday, Watson expressed an eagerness toward embracing the offseason to continue that climb. He and WR Amari Cooper had already discussed meeting at some point over the offseason to improve chemistry, and he also looked forward to analyzing the offense with head coach Kevin Stefanski and assessing what they can do to be stronger in 2023.
"We're going to sit down," Watson said. "Met with him today. We're going to have a man-to-man conversation. Nothing negative or anything like that, but just what can we do to be better offensively and as a team."
Does that mean the offensive style and play calls will be even more different compared to when he took over as the starter in Week 13?
"Yeah, most definitely," he said. "I think it will be totally different. We've seen a glimpse of what we wanted to do, but I think it will be a lot different, for sure."
Stefanski said any changes to the offense will be about bringing even more opportunities to the Browns' top skill position players.
"I hope year to year you are different – different being better," he said. "How drastic that is depends so much year to year. Ultimately, we do want to maximize Deshaun's talents, maximize (RB) Nick Chubb, (TE) David Njoku and (WR) Amari (Cooper). We want to make sure that we are putting all of those guys in a good spot. Yes, there are things that yes we want to get to this spring and summer that we haven't gotten into just yet."
Those changes will be one of the biggest storylines the Browns face in the offseason, and it's all geared toward meeting the high expectations Watson has for himself now that he'll have a full 17-game slate with his new team.
"The expectations should be high because we have the talent, we have the potential and we have the people and the pieces to be able to meet those expectations," he said. "We have to make sure that we are doing everything that we can do consistently each and every week to try to meet those expectations."