Why Browns must trade for Jimmy Garoppolo to replace QB Deshaun Watson: Lloyd

The Cleveland Browns have a problem. Inexplicably, it remains the same issue they’ve had for the better part of the last 20 years.

The Browns need a quarterback. Again.

It’s astonishing, really, after totaling up the $60 million they’re paying Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett this season. Of the three, Brissett is costing them the least, and yet he’s the only one who will be on their active roster Week 1 against Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers.

Brissett, however, was only supposed to be an aspirin to relieve the brief headache of a Watson suspension to start the season.

Eleven games isn’t a headache. It’s a head wound.

It’s time to go get Jimmy Garoppolo.

Read more: What’s next for the Browns following Deshaun Watson’s suspension settlement

The Browns weren’t interested in Garoppolo during the offseason. They didn’t see him as much of an upgrade over Mayfield. But the game has changed since then.

When they signed Brissett, the Browns never expected Watson’s suspension to span into December. One high-ranking team official said in March the team was “cautiously optimistic” that any suspension levied against Watson wouldn’t bring down the season. A suspension in the sphere of the six games originally handed down by retired federal judge Sue Robinson last month was in line with what the Browns were anticipating.

They live in a different world today. In their risky attempt to upgrade the game’s most important position, the Browns actually got worse — at least for the first two-thirds of the season while Watson serves his 11-game suspension for violations of the league’s personal conduct policy.

It really isn’t debatable. As hard as I was on Mayfield last year and pleaded with the Browns to upgrade at quarterback, Mayfield is still vastly better than Brissett, who is 14-23 as a starter and whose career quarterback rating of 83.0 is nearly identical to Mayfield’s awful season of a year ago (83.1). In other words, Mayfield at his worst has been Brissett’s career average.

Brissett is a journeyman backup. He’s fine in small doses, but as someone who watched him closely when he was a starter for the Colts told me, the more he plays, the more he’s exposed. The Browns can’t risk their season to a backup.

Garoppolo’s worst season as a starter is better than Brissett’s best in terms of quarterback rating.

Brissett for six to eight games would be enough to keep the Browns in contention until Watson was eligible to return. Brissett for 11 games could have the Browns in a deep hole in a loaded division before December even arrives.

From Weeks 7 through 12, the stretch of the season Watson would’ve been eligible to play under Robinson’s ruling but now will not be following his settlement with the league, the Browns face Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Buffalo and Tampa Bay (with a bye week mixed in). The Ravens, Dolphins and Bills are on the road.

Four of those games will be against Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Tom Brady, and all five could go a long way in determining whether or not the Browns make the playoffs. Garoppolo, for all of his flaws, took the 49ers to one Super Bowl and nearly had them in another last season. He could be the difference in one or two of those games, which could ultimately decide whether or not the Browns are a postseason team in a loaded AFC.

The Browns are pot committed now and don’t own a first-round pick in next year’s draft. They owe it to the rest of the roster and guys like Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett to keep adding chips to the pot while they’re still in their prime. There are no more seasons to waste. Brissett isn’t the best they can do at the quarterback position, and the rest of the roster knows it.


Browns officials gave backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett a less-than-stellar endorsement on Thursday. (Ken Blaze/USA Today)

There are complicating factors in all of this, beginning with Garoppolo’s surgically repaired throwing shoulder. He has been cleared to throw, but since he was excused from Niners camp as the team begins its awkward transition to Trey Lance, no one has seen much of Jimmy G. this summer.

Even more worrisome from the Browns’ perspective, Watson’s cap hit is only $10 million now but is expected to soar to $55 million next season.

The Browns still have nearly $50 million in cap space this season, easily the most in the NFL, that they can roll into next year’s cap. That’s important because they’re on pace to be about $30 million over the cap as currently constructed. Factor in Garoppolo’s current $24 million base salary for this year and it’s easy to see how the idea of ​​bringing him in would lead to hard conversations in the front office.

Are 11 games of Garoppolo worth whatever cap space it would prevent them from rolling over next year? Given the alternatives, I don’t see how the answer is anything other than yes.

There are no other suitors for Garoppolo at this point, and the concept of a Baker 2.0 trade and renegotiation seems likely. In the deal with Carolina, the Browns ate about $10 million of Mayfield’s guaranteed contract while Baker agreed to convert $3.5 million to bonus incentives just to get out of Cleveland.

Would Garoppolo and the 49ers be willing to strike a similar deal? Only a fraction of Garoppolo’s current contract is guaranteed, but perhaps the 49ers would be willing to swallow more in exchange for a better draft pick. The Browns could wait out San Francisco in the hope he’s released on Aug. 30, but that doesn’t leave a lot of time to get him acclimated to the system here, and there’s no guarantee Garoppolo would pick Cleveland if given his choice of teams. The Browns can ensure acquiring him by trading for him now rather than risk losing him to Seattle or another destination of his choice in free agency.

Can they convince San Francisco to pick up a few million? Can they convince Garoppolo to give back a decent chunk in order to get the chance to play 11 games with a talented roster and create an opportunity to rebuild his own value entering free agency? It beats his alternative of getting released and perhaps not getting much playing time this season. It makes too much sense not to come to some sort of agreement.

And what if the Browns don’t make a move and Brissett goes down to injury? Between Josh Dobbs and Josh Rosen, it’s debatable whether they even have another NFL-caliber quarterback on this roster. Dobbs has thrown a total of 17 passes in the NFL, while Rosen is on his fourth team in four years and could be running out of chances.

Read more: How the Watson suspension affects the Browns’ playoff hopes

Browns general manager Andrew Berry was asked twice Thursday about the idea of ​​Brissett starting all 11 games in place of Watson. He refused to commit to Brissett in both instances.

“We brought in Jacoby and we feel very good about Jacoby,” Berry said. “We like what we have seen throughout the spring and we have liked what we have seen throughout the summer, so we have a high degree of confidence in him. No different than any other position on the roster. We will continue to evaluate our team over the course of camp, but (we’re) really pleased with Jacoby.”

Garoppolo’s transition from Kyle Shanahan’s offense to Kevin Stefanski’s system theoretically should be painless, but the clock is ticking. The Browns only have 10 to 12 practices remaining before kicking off the season Sept. 11 at Carolina. If they’re going to bring in another quarterback, every day matters at this point.

“We have a lot of confidence in Jacoby,” Berry said the second time he was asked about whether the Browns will consider other options at quarterback. “We have seen him play in Indianapolis and Miami. We have seen him here on the practice field. We think he has had a really good camp, so we have a lot of confidence.”

That’s a lot of words. None of them say Brissett will be the Browns’ Week 1 starter.

(Top photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

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