Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson celebrates his touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson celebrates his touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
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BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson didn't choose Cleveland — over Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta — because of the weather or the Browns' success with quarterbacks.

The first is frequently gloomy, the other, horrendous.

But along with a $230 million, fully guaranteed contract, Watson was enticed to join the Browns after making a strong initial connection with coach Kevin Stefanski, who showed him the possibilities to shine in Cleveland's offense.

When team owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam visited Watson in Houston in March to try and convince him to sign with the Browns, they brought along Stefanski, who spent time laying out his vision in Xs and Os to the star.

As it turns out, Stefanski helped close the deal.

“The opportunity to be able to talk ball and just the connection that we had, it wasn’t even about selling me on Cleveland and what’s here,” Watson said Wednesday.

"It was just mostly all ball, and me and him had the opportunity to meet and talk about that and see what the future can hold and what we can really do in this system together.

“So that was what I was really excited about and why I was very high on Cleveland.”

Nine months later, the Watson-Stefanski partnership remains a work in progress. But there's been signs of growth in just the three games since Watson returned from an 11-game NFL suspension for sexual misconduct allegations.

Watson said Stefanski's offense is so appealing because of its unpredictability. The Browns already had one of the league's best rushing attacks, and with Watson, Cleveland will be able to throw the ball at a high level.

Stefanski showed the offense can work with Baker Mayfield at the controls. Watson is on an entirely different plateau.

“Just the balance of the pass and the run," Watson said when asked what he likes best in Stefanski's system, "and then we have a great front five (line), those guys up front and the schemes and the way Coach (Bill) Callahan coaches those guys and how detailed they are.

"And then also just with how he can get the receivers the ball. Not just one receiver, but everyone to have the opportunity to make plays and be special. So I love the opportunities that we have. I love the way he (Stefanski) schemes up the game and we are just going to continue to grow from there.”

Watson's completion percentage and rating have improved each game, and he looks much more in command while going 2-1. There haven't been as many highlight-reel moments as expected, but Watson is confident those will come.

With every snap, throw and completion, he feels more like himself. His accuracy has been better, he's not forcing passes into tight windows and Cleveland's receivers are beginning to read Watson and vice versa.

Slowly, surely, it's coming together.

“Each and every week has been getting better and that’s what I like to see,” he said. "Not so much of just ‘Hey this is the play or oh, I remember this.’ It’s more of just kinda all right each week, am I getting better? Am I getting more sharp with my game and operating and being a quarterback in this system?

“Because it’s a learning curve for myself, too. This is a different system than what I was back in Houston. So this is a totally different change for me and I’m trying to adapt as much as the coaching staff is trying to adapt to me.”

On Saturday, Watson will face bone-chilling cold (it's forecast to be 10 degrees at kickoff) and the Saints (5-9), who made their own sales pitch to the 27-year-old before losing out to the Browns.

Owner Gayle Benson led a group that tried to persuade Watson to New Orleans.

Watson wouldn't say if he ever leaned toward Louisiana.

“I’m a Cleveland Brown and that’s the team I was leaning to,” he said, dismissing the idea the Saints were a favorite. ”But I got so much respect for (coach) Dennis Allen and all the staff that came to visit me, the players and the owner. She came and visited me and we had a great conversation and talked and have so much respect for each other. I appreciate the New Orleans Saints for the opportunity."

NOTES: Star DE Myles Garrett (illness) and Nick Chubb (foot) missed their second straight practice, but both are expected to play Saturday. DE Jadeveon Clowney (concussion), John Johnson III (thigh) were also out. ... WR Amari Cooper (core muscle) and RT Jack Conklin (rest) worked to the side during the portion of practice open to reporters. ... Struggling rookie K Cade York has worked out twice at FirstEnergy Stadium this week after missing two kicks last Saturday against Baltimore.


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