Deshaun Watson ramping up work, Amari Cooper absent at Browns minicamp



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Quarterback Deshaun Watson increased his practice work during Cleveland Browns minicamp Tuesday, but he wasn’t throwing the ball to top wide receiver Amari Cooper during the mandatory practice session.

Cooper skipped practice Tuesday with an inexcused absence, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said, subjecting himself to fines from the team.

The five-time Pro Bowl receiver is entering the final year of his contract with his deal set to void following the 2024 season. He currently counts $23.8 million against the 2024 salary cap, via Over the Cap. Stefanski said “there’s been dialogue” regarding a contract extension, but nothing else.

Cooper, who turns 30 next week, is coming off a productive 2023 campaign despite playing primarily without Watson at quarterback. The veteran wideout caught 72 passes for 1,250 yards and five touchdowns.

“Amari is our teammate, our brother,” Watson said after Tuesday’s practice. “The decisions he has to make, we support him.”

Meanwhile, Watson participated in seven-on-seven drills for the first time since his season-ending right shoulder injury sidelined him midway through last year. Watson said he doesn’t know if he will be fully cleared by training camp or if he’ll throw Wednesday after throwing every other day during OTAs. Several times his answer was “one day at a time” and said he’ll continue to rely on his doctors the next few weeks.

The quarterback said he feels “very, very comfortable” throwing the football and in the “right position” to be healthy.

“Each couple weeks is a (new) phase we have to hit, checkpoints,” Watson said.

The Browns went 5-1 when Watson started games last season. Through those games, Watson threw for 1,115 yards with seven TDs and four interceptions resulting in an 84.3 passer rating.

Behind Cooper’s absence

It was not entirely surprising that Cooper skipped the first minicamp practice. With a $20 million base salary for 2024, Cooper can afford the fines — and he’s missing because he wants a new, longer-term deal. It’s a tough spot for the team with Cooper turning 30 next week and headed for his 10th NFL season, but Cooper knows he has leverage as the Browns’ clear No. 1 wide receiver ahead of a season of high expectations.

This one could go a number of different ways, and it will be interesting to eventually hear Cooper address it directly, but Cooper knows the Browns need him and wants to be paid accordingly. It’s not that Cooper wanted the money the team gave Jerry Jeudy in March. It’s almost certainly that Cooper wants some level of security and commitment for what he’s done, and it’s likely that the Jeudy extension caused some hard feelings. — Zac Jackson, Browns beat writer

How Browns WRs stack up

Here’s a glimpse at the advanced metrics from 2023 (via TruMedia and Sports Info Solutions) I sorted through in this study, using these categories:

  • Expected points added (EPA) per target
  • EPA per reception
  • Catchable-pass percentage
  • Overall reception percentage

(Rankings in parenthesis. There were 59 qualified WRs with 75 or more targets and 35 qualified WRs with 40 to 74 targets.)

75-plus targets

player EPA/Tar EPA/rec Catchable% Rec%

0.16 (43)

0.9 (46)

87.1 (13)

61.4 (41)

0.31 (22)

1.5 (5)

83.7 (34)

56.7 (51)

-0.05 (54)

0.7 (55)

81.9 (40)

57.8 (49)

40-74 targets

player EPA/Tar EPA/rec Catchable% Rec%

-0.61 (35)

0.9 (25)

87.5 (8)

47.7 (33)

Cooper packed quite a punch, averaging 17.4 yards per reception last season, the best rate of his career by 2.5 yards per catch. It might have helped that he caught 15 passes for 374 yards and three TDs from Joe Flacco in his final two regular-season games before missing Weeks 17 and 18 with an injury. Even with the addition of Jeudy, Cooper should claim the No. 1 wideout spot as Watson returns from a right shoulder injury.

Jeudy, the Denver Broncos’ 2020 first-round pick, might not become a superstar after being selected as a top-15 player. Maybe a fresh start will help him. He’s only a season removed from 0.47 EPA per target and 1.2 EPA per reception. — Larry Holder, senior NFL writer

How Watson looked

It was notable to see Watson in a semi-competitive setting, and though Watson said he still doesn’t know when he’ll be fully cleared, he seemed confident about the work he’s been able to do through the spring. Watson completed his first two throws in the seven-on-seven setting, and though the offense failed in a later red zone period, Watson did not appear apprehensive or rushed in any of his throws. The velocity seemed normal, and it’s expected that he’ll throw again Thursday on the final day of minicamp.

Watson didn’t give many specific answers about his throwing schedule for the rest of June and July ahead of training camp, but his participation in seven-on-seven drills shows there’s been progress — and some level of clearance from his doctors. — Jackson

Required reading

(Photo: Nick Cammett / Getty Images)



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