The Cleveland Browns made a drastic and abrupt move by firing offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt in January. Weeks after that decision, the reason why has become clear.
Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated appeared on the Friday, February 2 edition of the “Zolak and Bertrand Show” out of Boston, where Van Pelt will serve as the next offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.
During the radio hit, Breer reported two pieces of news of considerable consequence to Cleveland. The first was that Deshaun Watson is the reason the front office gave Van Pelt the ax — with the QB’s lack of progress over the past two years serving as the sticking point. The second was that members of the coaching staff “were floored” by the decision considering Van Pelt’s pivotal role within the organization.
The reason he was let go in Cleveland was because ownership and [chief strategy officer] Paul DePodesta, not [head coach] Kevin Stefanski, were frustrated with the progress Deshaun Watson has made. I don’t think the people who made that decision really knew [Van Pelt’s] value to that staff. Other people on that staff … were floored when they fired him for two reasons.
Number one: how do you fire the offensive coordinator after you just won 11 games with four different quarterbacks, your fourth and fifth tackles [and] without Nick Chubb?
The other reason is the real key, though. He was the glue of that staff. [Stefanski], if you know him, is a great guy, but he’s not the most outgoing guy. His personality is very dry. He’s got a good sense of humor, but he’s not this outwardly gregarious guy. Alex was the one that held that staff together — when guys were coming out, when guys were coming in. He is a guy who was a unifying force in that building.
Deshaun Watson’s NFL Suspension, Shoulder Injury Hindered QB’s Progress Over Past 2 Seasons
In fairness to the Browns and their call to fire Van Pelt, Watson hasn’t been good when he has played over the past two seasons. In fairness to Van Pelt, the QB hasn’t played all that often and the windows in which he might have progressed have been small and infrequent.
Cleveland sold the farm to bring in Watson, dealing away three first-round picks as part of a larger asset package to the Houston Texans in a 2022 trade. The Browns then paid Watson $230 million in fully-guaranteed money, despite the fact that the quarterback hadn’t taken a regular-season snap for a full year and was facing an almost certain suspension from the league for his off-field conduct.
That suspension came down in the form of 11 games, during which time Watson’s freedom to practice with the team was severely limited. He came back for the final six contests of the season and was largely disappointing, completing 58.2% of his passes for 1,102 yards, 7 TDs and 5 INTs across six starts (3-3), per Pro Football Reference.
The next season had a more auspicious beginning, as Cleveland earned a record of 5-1 with Watson under center. However, he left one game due to injury after throwing just a handful of passes. All told, Watson completed 61.4% of his attempts for 1,115 yards, 7 TDs and 4 INTs. In other words, he was the same middling-to-bad player for most of his six starts in 2023 that he was the year prior.
A shoulder injury requiring season-ending surgery in November factored into Watson’s play to some degree, but he was bad before that injury as well, and sitting out the last two months of the campaign limited even further Van Pelt’s ability to re-develop Watson.
New OC Ken Dorsey Is Browns’ Last Hope for QB Deshaun Watson
Cleveland’s upper management has now turned to Ken Dorsey, formerly a quarterbacks coach and then the offensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills, as a last-ditch effort to salvage Watson’s career and the massive bet the team made on him two years ago.
A former quarterback with the Browns, Dorsey appeared in games for Cleveland in both 2006 and 2008. He earned an 0-3 record over that span and was 2-11 for his NFL career as a starter.
Dorsey’s rise as a coach in the league came in Buffalo, where he worked closely with two-time Pro Bowler Josh Allen. The Bills hired Dorsey as their quarterbacks coach in 2019 following Allen’s rookie campaign. He served in that job for two seasons, then as QBs coach/pass game coordinator in 2021. Dorsey jumped into the OC position in 2022, which he held for a little more than one and a half seasons before Buffalo fired him in November following a 5-5 start.
The Browns’ new OC has worked in the NFL as a scout or a coach in 12 of the last 13 years between stints with the Carolina Panthers and Bills organizations. He has spent that entire time either as a scout, a quarterbacks coach or an offensive coordinator.
After making what appears to be a disastrous deal for Watson, Cleveland is betting big once again by firing Van Pelt and hiring Dorsey — counting on the latter’s specific quarterback expertise to transform Watson back into the Pro Bowl player he was between 2018-20. If Dorsey can’t accomplish that feat, sweeping changes could be in store for the Browns at every level of the organization.
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