The best way to offload quarterback Baker Mayfield's contract might be to trade him to the San Francisco 49ers for the expendable Jimmy Garoppolo. However, if they acquire him, the Browns might turn around and either trade or simply cut Garoppolo after acquiring him, viewing the cost savings as more valuable than the quarterback.
The Browns have a history with Garoppolo. In 2018, there were fans and media who were willing to give up the #1 overall pick of the draft for Garoppolo, who was then with the New England Patriots. The Browns had interest, but nowhere near that level. The San Francisco 49ers acquired Garoppolo for a second round pick and the Browns used the top overall pick on all-world defensive end Myles Garrett. The Browns would take Mayfield with the top pick the following year.
The Browns, having acquired Deshaun Watson this offseason, now need to trade Mayfield's contract to avoid paying as much as of the $18.8 million in guaranteed salary he's owed as possible. The 49ers don't need to trade Garoppolo, but they have an opportunity to, commit to Trey Lance, save money, potentially acquire an extra asset and have a talented backup quarterback.
The most attractive aspect of Garoppolo to the Browns isn't his physical appearance or even his quarterback play. It's his contract. He carries a $24.2 million base salary in 2022. The 49ers owe him any bonuses he's due. If the Browns were to trade or even cut Garoppolo, they wouldn't owe him a cent.
The Browns could keep him as their starting quarterback, believing he's the best option in the event Deshaun Watson is suspended, potentially for the entire season. However, they might be able to trade Garoppolo to another team at a discounted price to recoup some value, clearing that money and moving on with Jacoby Brissett, whom the team insists is the plan going forward.
This past week's events in the podcasting world has added a salacious twist with Garoppolo that could specifically impact his viability with the Browns.
As a guest on the McCourty Twins podcast, former teammate and New England Patriots tight end Marcellus Bennett unloaded on Garoppolo over games he missed due to injury in 2016. That is now six years ago and Bennett is still furious.
This clip contains harsh language and is not safe for work.
Bennett says Garoppolo is soft, though in much harsher language than that. He defends the quarterback for trying to maximize his value on a future contract, but crushes him for when he decided he was unable to play due to an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, waiting until gameday as opposed to Thursday when the team would've had more time to plan around it.
Julian Edelman, a wide receiver on that Patriots team was a guest on Brandon Marshall's podcast, 'I Am Athlete' was given the Bennett quote to read.
Once again, this clip contains harsh language and is not safe for work.
Edelman didn't use the same language Bennett did, but he did acknowledge that he was angry about Garoppolo's decision not to play.
Adding another level of complication for the Browns is who both Bennett and Edelman contrast Garoppolo against - Jacoby Brissett, who was a rookie on the Patriots that year and is now a member of the Browns.
Both Bennett and Edelman note just how difficult the situation Brissett was put in, playing with damaged ligaments in his thumb.
The Browns aren't going to avoid adding a player based off of rumors. They will do their own research. However, players talk. Brissett has been with the Browns for months. He's been a respected and popular player with every team he's played in his career. Brissett isn't likely to go to the Browns front office and make demands should they acquire Garoppolo.
More likely, his teammates may be dissatisfied with the decision to add Garoppolo to usurp Brissett's spot in the lineup. If the players like Brissett (so far, this seems to be the case) and want to proceed with him in the event Watson is not available, it could cause some friction in a season which already has potential for issues within the locker room or potentially between players and the front office.
Garoppolo might be a marginal upgrade over Brissett. If he's healthy. But the added stress may not be worth it to the Browns. The Browns would still be at a sizable disadvantage against the teams in the AFC that are legitimate contenders for the postseason.
The fact these podcasts came out are illuminating for fans and media, but a lot of player opinions have likely been formed. For anyone remaining who is only being exposed to this now might be surprised by the visceral reaction. Six years later and these guys are still mad about two games in a season where the Patriots went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl.
And if Garoppolo does get hurt for the Browns, what is the immediate reaction going to be from fans, media and teammates? A skeptical seed has already been planted. Garoppolo is in a contract year. A massively successful season would be good for his future earning power, but if the same choice is placed in front of him, agent pressure or not, he might turn it down. Brissett won't.
Consider the amount of fans who have decided that Baker Mayfield is a terrible quarterback for playing through pain, dealing with multiple injuries in 2021. He did not play well, but he wanted to be the hero and he wanted to win. Garoppolo might represent the opposite end of that spectrum. He may want to win, but he might be only willing to go so far to achieve it.
Just this past season, Garoppolo played through multiple injuries including the shoulder issue that required surgery after going to the NFC Championship this past season with the 49ers.
In a perfect world, the Browns trade Mayfield and his entire contract to the 49ers, likely including a pick as a sweetener, to get Garoppolo's contract. Whether they trade or release Garoppolo, the net gain for the Browns is $18.8 million of cap space, which they can roll over into 2023.
49ers general manager John Lynch might want to push Browns GM Andrew Berry to eat some of Mayfield's salary to get more cap savings on the deal while also ensuring they have a good quarterback if Trey Lance were to get hurt or experience some early struggles. In that scenario, Lynch can say that he got something for Garoppolo in an environment where most onlookers think he can't. Both teams can be happy with the outcome even if neither quarterback has any meaningful impact on their team.
This may not be a likely outcome, but if the 49ers like Mayfield, this would provide a scenario where the Browns might be able to unload the most guaranteed salary. They might have to give up a pick, but the financial flexibility and finality of the move might prove worth pulling the trigger.