Lombardi: Why the Browns should trade for Jimmy Garoppolo

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There are two things we know for certain about the NFL season as we sit on the beach, swim at the lake, or suffer in the Vegas heat in for our summer vacations. 

No. 1: Deshaun Watson will miss games in 2022 (how many has yet to be determined)

No. 2: Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns are never getting back together again, regardless of how much counseling takes place. 

As they often proclaim in Hollywood when celebrities divorce, there are “irrevocable differences” between the two sides.  Baker wants to be the guy, and the Browns gave 240 million reasons he isn’t to Watson.

The Browns now have a large quarterback problem for at least a portion of 2022, which will ultimately affect their chances of having a successful season.  With Watson under center, anyone could make the case the Browns have a Super Bowl caliber team; without him, they don’t.  Jacoby Brissett is now the starting quarterback as we all await the NFL’s ruling on Watson.  Brissett has been thrust into this role before, once in Indianapolis and Miami, and both times he proved to be ineffective over the course of a long season. Brissett is a quality leader, great person, hard worker and ideal for the backup role.  When he must play over an extended period, his lack of anticipation and rhythm create problems, particularly when the game speeds up.  Browns president Paul Depodesta and general manager Andrew Berry need to find a solution now, or else face the reality of the situation in the middle of October when it’s too late.

And there really is only one short term solution: Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Don’t laugh, as Jimmy is the best quarterback available on an AirBNB rate.  His salary is a problem for most teams, but not for the Browns once they trade Mayfield.  And Garoppolo is willing to do a new deal with his new team.  He knows the market isn’t there for a $24 million quarterback, so he is willing to lower his base, and do an incentive-laden deal.  With the uncertainty of his shoulder, the new deal would offer Cleveland protection against Garoppolo missing games. 

Garoppolo is the perfect fit for the Browns offense because head coach Kevin Stefanski is running the Kyle Shanahan/Gary Kubiak version of the West Coast offense.  It would be a seamless transition for Garoppolo and the Browns, and it wouldn’t require much time for Garoppolo to be ready for the start of the season, assuming his health is fine. What makes the deal even more appealing is the Browns could benefit in draft capital by making the move.

Let’s say the Browns trade a fifth-round pick to the 49ers that could become a 4 based on playing time and team record.  And let’s also say Garoppolo has a solid year, leads the Browns to the playoffs and then becomes a free agent.  A quarterback-desperate team will sign Garoppolo to a sizeable contract, thus giving the Browns a compensatory pick back, perhaps a third rounder.  What is the downside? 

Some might say Garoppolo isn’t good enough and he can’t help the Browns, which is complete hogwash.  Garoppolo is far from perfect, and has issues with durability and playing through pain, as former Patriot Julian Edelman mentioned on NESN. “I mean, I don’t know we’re all football players here,” Edelman said. “We go into Week 4 and Jimmy was practicing and then decided not to play. Jacoby played with no ligaments in his thumb, which you can’t do as a quarterback.

“A lot of guys got mad at it. I’m not going to lie, I got mad about it,” Edelman continued. “I sacrificed my body all day long. I was taking shots for this, numbing up that, ribs, broken ribs, shoulders, Grade 3 hanging on by limbs just to play. I can understand why Marty (Bennett) thinks like that.” 

I can understand why some feel this way about Garoppolo, as durability is as important as ability.  And when you lead the team from the quarterbacking position, you must be one of the toughest players on the team, especially when stepping in for the toughness GOAT, Tom Brady.  However, last season, Garoppolo demonstrated more toughness than in the past, playing through a shoulder injury that required surgery this off-season.  In addition, Garoppolo is now at a crossroads of his career.  If he wants to remain a starter, he needs to play -- and play well -- for his next team.  Often times, players playing in their contract year have their best season.  The same logic applies to Mayfield: If he is ever going to have a great year, next year might be the one. 

Garoppolo’s public perception is not good, partly because of the six interceptions he has thrown in playoff games. All of the 49ers problems often land on his shoulders, even though he wasn’t on the field when San Francisco’s defense blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in Super Bowl LIV.

However, when you compare his numbers over his 33-game starting career, to Watson’s numbers, they are closer than you might suspect.  Watson obviously is more dangerous running with the ball, they both average over 8 yards per attempt and both are loose with the football.  Watson has thrown 36 interceptions, Garoppolo 38.  But my point here isn’t to compare Watson and Garoppolo, rather to give the Browns a short-term option to save their season and there is no one on the market better than Garoppolo.  Factor in the value of him playing well and getting a compensatory pick back, and there is limited the risk in the deal.   

The Browns might believe that Brissett can fill the void, and if they do, I am not sure what evidence they are basing that belief on.  They had to know Watson was getting suspended, so the move to sign Brissett was clearly made with the belief he could win games in Watson’s absence. I’m not sure I agree with that logic, particularly over eight games (or perhaps more).  There is no turning back to Mayfield and now the Browns need to turn towards Garoppolo, as it makes sense assuming Garoppolo’s shoulder is fine. 

Why give up on the season if you’re the Browns?  Rent Garoppolo for one year and give the team a chance. 

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