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Whew: Did Falcons Dodge Deshaun Watson Bullet?

There were many more cons than pros to Atlanta landing quarterback Deshaun Watson

In the end, the Atlanta Falcons were lucky they didn't mortgage their future for a player who - though not criminally guilty - is far from innocent. And is also, by the way, still burdened with baggage, both psychological and physical.

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Falcons fans were on pins and needles last week as the warm-'n-fuzzy stories got dusted off about Deshaun Watson. Grew up Gainesville. Was a Falcons ball boy. Close relationship with owner Arthur Blank.

Add those to soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan and his imminent $7.5 million vesting roster bonus, and we were momentarily titillated by the prospect of the NFL's 2020 passing leader throwing to the league's future best tight end, Kyle Pitts.

Those dreams were dashed last Friday, when Watson stunned the NFL by signing with the Cleveland Browns. The sound coming from Atlanta should be relief, not regret.

The Falcons dodged a bullet. There were many more cons than pros in hitching their wagon to Watson.

First and foremost, though a grand jury recently declined to charge him, Watson's character remains in question. There are 22 women still suing him for sexual misconduct. The NFL is investigating, and most observers believe he will be subjected to discipline that will include some form of suspension in 2022.

The NFL released a statement re: Watson:

"Any transaction would have no effect on the NFL’s ongoing and comprehensive investigation of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson. Nor would it affect his status under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. If the league’s investigation determines that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, discipline may be imposed pursuant to the policy and the CBA.”

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Ryan may yet be traded - the Colts have called - and he has his flaws, but for 14 years he's been a solid leader and a pristine face of the franchise whose failures have been contained on the field.

It's now the Browns' risk to pay Watson $230 million - the largest guaranteed contract in league history - for a person with chinks in his character armor and who alienated himself from the franchise that drafted him, and for a player who lost his last five starts and hasn't thrown a pass since Jan. 3, 2021.

That's what Cleveland is getting. What it gave away might be even more debilitating, to the tune of three first-round draft picks.

Are we looking at the Herschel Heist 2.0?

Trading one player (Herschel Walker) to the Minnesota Vikings for a bevy of draft picks in 1989 helped set the Dallas Cowboys up for three Super Bowls in four years in the 1990s. Those Cowboys, of course, had their franchise quarterback in Troy Aikman. Atlanta must figure out what to do with Ryan. But consider what they don't have to do without Watson.

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The Texans might have asked for Pitts in a trade. Atlanta gets to keep its draft collateral to finish off Ryan's career and/or build around the next quarterback. Perhaps there wouldn't be enough money left under the salary cap to sign Cordarrelle Patterson. Even if Watson got off to a great start in 2022, the Falcons would have the black cloud of suspension hanging over their season.

Most importantly to some, the Falcons avoided a public relations nightmare and saved face by not landing Watson. The team's female fan base would likely feel betrayed by the organization choosing Watson and his lingering sexual assault cases as its new superstar.

For the Falcons, there are many more reasons Watson wouldn't work. Bullet = Dodged.