Browns QB Deshaun Watson to start vs. Cardinals after missing 3 of last 4 games

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) warms up on the field before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is coming back from injury. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will start against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters Friday.

A right rotator cuff strain has prevented the 28-year-old from playing in the majority of the team's last four contests. He made his most recent start on Oct. 22 against the Indianapolis Colts. But he left the Week 7 win in the first quarter after taking a hit to the shoulder and falling from the force.

He was a full practice participant on Friday, an improvement from his limited participation on Wednesday and Thursday.

On Thursday, Watson said he "jumped the gun," in the attempt to return.

The specifics of his injury were murky for a while. Despite being listed as questionable for the Browns' Week 4 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Watson was officially ruled out 90 minutes before the game kicked off. Even backup quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who subsequently made his first NFL start, was surprised.

The next day, Stefanski said Watson was medically cleared and made the decision to sit out. Ahead of his ill-fated comeback against the Colts, Watson provided previously undisclosed details about the "micro-tear" in his rotator cuff. He communicated that he wasn't concerned about the pain, but wanted to avoid putting the team at risk.

Last week, Watson defended himself against the notion that his absence from the field was by choice.

“I just worked my ass off for two years to get back to playing, so why wouldn’t I want to play?" Watson said to reporters last week. "I see the same things — I see all the narratives, this, that and the third. All that stuff is just trying to cause controversy and commotion. I’m fine. I’m happy. I’m not happy with the injury. I’m in a great space mentally, I’m in a great space spiritually. Physically, everything else is in a great space but my shoulder, so we’re working hard to get that back. But why wouldn’t I want to play? I don’t do this for no other reason. I see that [talk] too, I see the whole contract situation [being brought up] and all that stuff.”

The Browns made the controversial decision to sign Watson to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract a year and a half ago after acquiring him in a trade with the Texans. The unprecedented deal also required the team to give up multiple draft picks.

This season, Watson has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 683 yards this season, recording four touchdown throws and three interceptions.