Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Baker Mayfield trade fallout: Five logical destinations for 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of 2022 season

Baker Mayfield and the Browns finally parted ways on Wednesday, with Cleveland trading the quarterback to the Panthers. That means almost every QB domino of the frenetic 2022 offseason has fallen. Almost. Despite more than a year of on-again, off-again trade speculation, and months of publicly anticipating a change of scenery, Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the 49ers. With Trey Lance quietly absorbing all QB1 reps as the anointed future face of the franchise, what happens next in San Francisco?

Here are the most logical destinations for Garoppolo, with training camp just around the corner:

5. Patriots

There were conflicting reports about New England’s interest in a Garoppolo reunion before spending a first-round pick on Mac Jones in 2021. And the Patriots certainly aren’t paying Jimmy G a hefty sum to back up Jones this time around. But if Garoppolo is outright cut, it might behoove Bill Belichick, who’s entering a big offensive transition without longtime coordinator Josh McDaniels, to call on his old prospect as a mentor for Jones. The upside for Garoppolo doesn’t extend much beyond returning to the familiar confines of New England, where he backed up Tom Brady from 2014-17, but from the Pats’ perspective, he probably offers more insurance than Brian Hoyer, who can be retained on the practice squad, and rookie Bailey Zappe.

4. Seahawks

The 49ers will not trade Garoppolo to a rival, even if Lance is their guy. But if San Francisco eventually cuts the veteran out of “respect” (i.e., his behind-the-scenes demands), Seattle might be waiting. If you’re the Seahawks, and you just witnessed Garoppolo guide two teams to the NFC title game in three years, why not? There’d be little financial downside if they signed Garoppolo on the cheap and later had to go to Drew Lock or Geno Smith, inevitably resetting at QB in 2023, which is likely anyway. Garoppolo’s experience as the figurehead of a run-first offense could be attractive to Pete Carroll, and the QB would get the bonus of playing San Francisco two times, with a chance to prove the Niners should’ve kept him.

3. Texans

Houston has stayed quiet at QB since unloading Deshaun Watson, committing to Davis Mills after the former third-rounder stood tall on a bad roster in 2021. But there isn’t much veteran insurance on board, with Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel pegged as the backups. Even in a rebuild, depth is important, and Garoppolo has a history with team brass, specifically general manager Nick Caserio, who was the Patriots’ director of player personnel when New England drafted Garoppolo in 2014. With extra picks in tow from the Watson deal, who’s to say they couldn’t offer a conditional late-rounder, assuming the QB takes a pay cut?

2. Bears

The Bears say they’re all in on 2021 first-rounder Justin Fields, but the new regime doesn’t seem particularly interested in giving him a supporting cast with which to grow in 2022. Their veteran No. 2, meanwhile, is ex-Saints backup Trevor Siemian, who’s struggled to stay healthy even off the bench, and is due just $1.6 million in 2022. Adding Garoppolo, either via trade after a pay cut or following a release from San Francisco, would give Chicago more proven insurance. Jimmy G, on the other hand, might at least enjoy the homecoming, returning the area in which he was born, raised and played college ball.

1. Browns

Watson, their prized acquisition of the offseason, is expected to be suspended for most, if not all, of the 2022 season for his alleged off-field transgressions. And now Mayfield is officially out of the picture. That means Cleveland’s playoff hopes could lie chiefly in the hands of new backup Jacoby Brissett, who’s best suited coming off the bench.

With Brissett due $4.65 million in 2022 (very much backup money, per the market), Mayfield’s departure saving them $8M, and Watson counting just $10M against the 2022 cap after collecting a massive signing bonus, the Browns are more than capable of absorbing Garoppolo’s $25.5M price tag, assuming the QB doesn’t agree to a pay cut to facilitate a deal. (Cleveland technically leads the NFL in current cap space, with $48.5M.)

All parties would conceivably embrace it as a one-year marriage. The Browns are built to win now. The offense is centered around the run, much like it was for Garoppolo with the 49ers. Cleveland would get a more proven emergency starter under center (and coach Kevin Stefanski might still get an efficient upgrade over Mayfield). Jimmy G, meanwhile, would get a chance to guide a playoff run while rebuilding his own market for 2023.

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