The Cleveland Browns have spent a ton of money to remain relevant amid the talent arms race in a stacked AFC, but with a suspension almost certainly on the way for Deshaun Watson, the team may need to dig even deeper into its proverbial pockets.
The likelihood that Watson misses a large chunk of the upcoming season changes the math under center in Cleveland, where a disgruntled Baker Mayfield and a middling Jacoby Brissett remain the top two alternate options on the depth chart.
Watson’s circumstances have opened a pathway for a QB swap with a new team, the San Francisco 49ers and one-time Super Bowl starter Jimmy Garoppolo, which could solve multiple problems now vexing the Browns organization.
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Mayfield For Garoppolo Trade Makes Sense if Watson Faces Long Suspension
A deal moving Mayfield for Garoppolo, which never made any sense for the Browns assuming Watson could start Week 1 or would miss only a few games, all of the sudden seems almost crucial to Cleveland’s success in 2022.
Mayfield is unlikely to ever take another snap in a Browns uniform after the team executed its trade for Watson. Mayfield asked out almost immediately following his replacement’s arrival, and recently came to a mutual agreement with the organization to sit out mandatory minicamp absent any financial penalty.
Translation: Mayfield has no interest in playing for the Browns, and Cleveland has no interest in Mayfield loitering anywhere near team activities.
It appeared that the organization simultaneously alienated Mayfield and destroyed any leverage it had in trade talks involving the quarterback upon its acquisition of Watson. A sticking point in negotiations around moving Mayfield in the months since has been his $18.9 million guaranteed salary in 2022, the lion’s share of which teams like the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks have demanded the Browns pay as part of any deal.
While Cleveland remains unlikely to pay for another team to take the quarterback off their hands, the Browns are now far more likely to deal Mayfield in return for a quarterback who can bridge the gap until Watson returns — even if that player is more expensive than Mayfield will be.
Garoppolo has a cap hit of $26.4 million this season, roughly $7.5 million more than Mayfield.
Browns Solve Two Problems at Once Trading Mayfield For Garoppolo
The 49ers have committed to second-year signal caller Trey Lance as their quarterback of the future and have been shopping Garoppolo to potential trade partners across the NFL for months.
San Francisco will need a backup for Lance, but Garoppolo is an expensive option in that regard. Mayfield would be, too, though considerably less pricey. He would also put to bed any QB controversy involving Garoppolo, who has led the Niners to two NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl over the last three seasons.
On the Browns’ side of a potential deal, it would cost more to bring in Garoppolo than to keep Mayfield, but by doing so Cleveland can buy an effective QB insurance policy behind Watson and solve its Mayfield conundrum in one fell swoop.
The one potential hitch in a plan to trade for Garoppolo is the hitch in his throwing shoulder. He sustained the injury during the Niners’ Wildcard Weekend win over the Dallas Cowboys and underwent surgery to repair the damage in early March.
Garoppolo also suffered a thumb injury to his throwing hand late last year, though he is expected to be at full strength when the regular season begins in September.