BEREA (AP) — Less than a week ago, Joe Flacco was home in southern New Jersey enjoying semi-retirement, watching NFL games on TV — and occasionally slinging a small football around in the front yard with his four boys.
Then the Browns called.
So, the 38-year-old hopped in his car and drove seven hours to Cleveland for his first NFL workout.
“Next thing you know,” Flacco said. “I’m here.”
In yet another twist to an odd season in Cleveland, Flacco, who spent much of his career tormenting the Browns while playing for AFC North rival Baltimore, is now on their practice squad and perhaps weeks — if not days — from becoming the team’s new starting quarterback.
Wearing a freshly-issued gray Browns hoodie on Wednesday before practice, Flacco looked around the large room at the orange helmets hanging in locker stalls — and soaked in his new football home.
He’s seen enough in his career not to be shocked.
“This is my 16th year in the locker room, you’ve seen a million things,” he said. “So to be super surprised by something, you probably don’t have your head in the right spot. You shouldn’t be surprised by anything at this point.”
Flacco’s arrival gives the Browns (7-3) an insurance policy going forward, now that they’re starting rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson after Deshaun Watson was lost for the season with a fractured right shoulder.
Watson had surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Thompson-Robinson, who led the Browns to a 13-10 win over Pittsburgh last week in his second career start, will be out there again this week at Denver, and it appears the team is willing to let him hold on to the job as long as he can.
But if he stumbles, Flacco — who has thrown for 42,320 yards and 232 touchdowns and has been a Super Bowl MVP — can take over.
And despite not being on a team all season, Flacco believes he can still play.
He stayed in shape while waiting to see if there was any interest.
“I do feel like I have stuff left in the tank,” he said. “So I owe it to myself to continue to push forward and try to play the game that I love until I really don’t feel like I can do it anymore.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wouldn’t commit to his backup QB this week against the Broncos (5-5). But there’s a chance it will be Flacco, who would have to be elevated to the active roster.
Along with having him available to replace Thompson-Robinson, the Browns are counting on Flacco to help mentor the young QB.
And Thompson-Robinson is embracing the chance to work with a quarterback he grew up watching — even one who could take his job.
“Joe coming in here is more of a blessing than anything,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I’m asking him a bunch of questions. We were chopping it up a ton this morning. He’s in the early meetings with us and me and (backup) P.J. (Walker). It’s great, man.
“He’s fit in so well, I’ve only known him for just about a day with him being here. So I love Joe. It’s been awesome.”
For the time being, Flacco said his primary focus is on gelling with a Cleveland team he has been impressed with from afar.
The Browns are off to one of their best starts in two decades, despite a rash of injuries and starting three different quarterbacks.
Obstacles have only bonded them.
“They seem like a very close group,” he said. “These guys have obviously really put it together on defense. They’ve run the ball consistently all year, even with losing out on the best back in the league with (Nick) Chubb. So it’s been impressive to watch them kind of just continue to fight.”
Flacco knows what it takes to win.
After all, he played 11 seasons with the Ravens, who like these Browns were led by a tenacious defense that always gave them a chance to win.
This has all happened quickly and somewhat unexpectedly for Flacco, who wasn’t sure if he had played his last game when he walked off the field following the season finale with the New York Jets in 2022.
He’s now in Cleveland, of all places, after going 18-3 against the Browns.
It’s a big change for him and his kids, who are all into football.
It’s especially different for fourth grader Daniel, who was born 90 minutes before his dad played against the Browns 10 years ago and already has switched loyalty.
“His Christmas list has like 50 Browns things on it almost instantly,” Flacco said.
NOTES: Cornerback Denzel Ward (shoulder) was one of the most notable starters to miss practice. He worked on the side with safeties Grant Delpit (thigh) and Juan Thornhill (calf) and linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (hamstring). Stefanski said Walker, who got hurt Sunday, isn’t a candidate for injured reserve.
Watson has surgery
CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson had surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles to repair a fracture in his right shoulder, an injury that ended his second season in Cleveland after just nine games.
Watson was already dealing with a strained right rotator cuff, when he suffered the break in his throwing shoulder during the first half against Baltimore on Nov. 12.
The Browns said shoulder specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed the surgery to fix the displaced fracture of Watson’s right glenoid (socket).
The 28-year-old will begin rehab later this week and the team expects Watson to be fully recovered “prior to the start of the 2024 season.”
Watson has played just 12 of 34 possible games since the Browns acquired him last season, signing him to a $230 million contract that’s fully guaranteed.
He was suspended 11 games in 2022 by the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy after being accused of sexual assault and harassment by two dozen women.
Despite his shoulder being broken, Watson stayed in the game against the Ravens while also dealing with a high left ankle sprain.
He completed all 14 pass attempts in the second half, and rallied the Browns to a 33-31 win.
With Watson lost following his best win since coming to Cleveland, rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson started Sunday against Pittsburgh.
The fifth-round pick completed four passes in the final 1:18 to set up Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning field goal as the Browns beat the Steelers 13-10.
Coach Kevin Stefanski will start Thompson-Robinson again this week at Denver, but the Browns signed veteran Joe Flacco on Monday.