The Cleveland Browns have spent the offseason swinging for the fences, but a drawn-out suspension for Deshaun Watson all but trashes the team’s hopes for a Super Bowl this year — unless they can find a suitable replacement.
Cleveland has nearly $48.5 million left in available cap space, per Spotrac. The team has two obvious positions of need in defensive tackle and wide receiver, but quarterback might soon be added to that list with a ruling on Watson’s off-field problems expected to come from independent arbiter and former federal judge Sue L. Robinson as early as this week.
After alienating Baker Mayfield by trading for Watson in March and then dealing the four-year starter to the Carolina Panthers last week, the Browns are left with Jacoby Brissett and Josh Dobbs as options under center behind Watson.
Some may argue — including, at the moment, Cleveland’s leadership contingent — that Brissett is competent enough to hold the line until Watson returns, however long that proves to be. But while Brissett has had his moments as a professional, his record as a starter is a less than pedestrian 14-23. Meanwhile, Dobbs has attempted all of 17 passes in the NFL — one of which was an interception and none of which found a pass catcher in the end zone.
The Browns have committed a lot of years and a lot of money to players either acquired or extended this offseason, including $230 million guaranteed to Watson over the next five years. Making good on those gambles will be paramount to both the legacies and the job security of Browns general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski.
The best way to protect their risky investment strategy is to gamble yet again, this time on a one-year fill-in for Watson with a recent track record of game-managing talented teams to deep postseason runs. In this case, that player is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
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NFL Insider Argues Garoppolo Makes Sense Under Center for Browns
NFL insider Bill Barnwell of ESPN laid out the Browns’ case for bringing Garoppolo to Cleveland by trading for the final year of the quarterback’s $137.5 million contract — a move the team could make by spending just over $25 million in 2022, a total that represents a little more than half of their available cap space.
“The Browns have $48 million in cap space, so they would be the one team that could trade for Garoppolo and absorb his contract without having to restructure any deals,” Barnwell wrote on July 6. “A one-year marriage of convenience would make sense for both sides, should a Watson suspension occur. Garoppolo would likely be an upgrade on Brissett, and he would get a year to start on a competitive team before hitting free agency. The Browns don’t have any reason to make a longer commitment with Watson in the fold.”
Garoppolo led the Niners to the NFC championship game last season and to the Super Bowl two years before. The team traded up to select his presumed replacement, Trey Lance, in the 2021 draft.
As a starter, Garoppolo boasts a regular season record of 33-14. He has thrown for 11,852 yards, 71 touchdowns and 38 interceptions across eight professional seasons with San Francisco and the New England Patriots before that, per Pro Football Reference. The QB is 5-2 as a starter in the postseason, per StatMuse.
Length of Watson’s Possible SuspensionIs Key to Garoppolo Trade Proposal
Barnwell added the caveat that a deal for Garoppolo doesn’t make as much sense if Watson is suspended only part of the year. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported in late June that the NFL is seeking an “indefinite suspension” for Watson that would last at least one full season.
The league does not have the power to unilaterally impose such a penalty, per its collective bargaining agreement with its players union (NFLPA). That is why Robinson, after conducting a hearing for Watson approximately two weeks ago, will make an independent decision.
Should Robinson determine that Watson is not deserving of a suspension, the NFL can not appeal her decision. Should she decide a suspension is warranted, she will issue it along with its length. In that case, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can appeal Robinson’s ruling if he believes the punishment is not appropriate for whatever reason.
If Watson does receive a suspension and it totals half of the season or less, the more than $25 million Garoppolo is owed in 2022 would not necessarily be money well spent — but that would be in the eye of the beholder and largely based on the results he would produce.
If a suspension comes down and totals more than half of the season, the Browns must consider spending enough to put a proven starting QB under center so as not to throw away a season that will be exceedingly expensive either way.