What the Baker Mayfield trade means for Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers
There were two NFL quarterbacks seemingly stuck between a rock and a hard place as the calendar flipped to July: Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo.
On Wednesday, Mayfield seemed to be rescued from his untenable situation in Cleveland, as the Browns traded him to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2024.
It’s a move that helps clear the path for a Garoppolo trade — and lays down a potential framework for what the 49ers might have to do in order to make a deal.
In making the trade, all three parties involved agreed to some financial considerations to make the deal work. According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, Mayfield is taking a discount of about $3.5 million from his salary, while the Browns agreed to pay $10.5 million of their now-departed quarterback’s remaining salary. Carolina is only paying Mayfield about $5 million.
Will San Francisco have to do something similar to make Garoppolo a movable asset? He’s set to make $24.2 million in base salary in 2022, but every penny of that amount could come off the 49ers’ books if they release him. Garoppolo’s only salary cap hit would be for $2.7 million in bonuses.
All offseason, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have been reticent to cut Garoppolo for nothing and have said a trade would be the likeliest outcome. With the Browns making this agreement to keep more than half of Mayfield’s salary in trading him, other teams looking to trade for Garoppolo may ask the 49ers to follow Cleveland’s precedent.
Despite keeping more than half of his salary, all the Browns got was a conditional fifth-round pick in return. Garoppolo is owed more, has arguably not reached the heights of personal performance that Mayfield did in 2020 (though Mayfield struggled in 2021 while playing through injuries) and is still recovering from shoulder surgery. It’s tough to see the 49ers getting a better draft asset than that — and they may not be able to match it, either.
For now, Garoppolo is the clear best quarterback available in the event any team is looking to add one sometime before the regular season, which starts on Sept. 8. Here are three teams who should be considered as the likeliest potential trade fits.
The in-division rival remains one of the teams with questions at quarterback, as the Seahawks prepare to enter the season with either Drew Lock or Geno Smith under center. OverTheCap.com has the Seahawks with more than $16 million in cap space to work with, so they have space to add Garoppolo if San Francisco keeps some money on its books.
Still, would the 49ers be comfortable trading Garoppolo within the division and setting up two possible showdowns in 2022? Both games would turn into referendums on Trey Lance, especially if Garoppolo’s legendary competitive fire comes out.
Perhaps the absolute best fit is the team who just traded away a quarterback. The Browns have by far the most cap space of any NFL team now, with OverTheCap showing them at more than $40 million to work with even after the Mayfield trade. The Browns also structured Deshaun Watson’s contract to lessen the blow in the event he’s suspended for his alleged sexual misconduct in Houston, with the NFL’s investigation reportedly nearing a conclusion.
If Watson is suspended for most or all of 2022, could Cleveland see Garoppolo as a fit to step in? Garoppolo’s former Patriots teammate, Jacoby Brissett, is already in the building as a safety net for a pending Watson suspension, so they may not want to make a move. But Cleveland has the cap space and the possible need.
This could have been the Steelers, but they drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round … or the Commanders, but they traded for Carson Wentz … or the Colts, but they traded for Matt Ryan … or the Falcons, but they signed Marcus Mariota … or the Bucs, but then Tom Brady decided retirement wasn’t for him just yet. And obviously Carolina just traded for Mayfield.
In theory, it could still be one of these teams, but each has already sought a different solution. Now, could former 49ers offensive coordinator-turned-Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel fall out of love with Tua Tagovailoa and decide Garoppolo is a worthy alternative? Could Houston, with several former Patriots in the front office, want Garoppolo to challenge former Stanford starter Davis Mills? Maybe.
But most of the other 29 teams outside of Seattle or Cleveland don’t seem to have a reason to make a move for Garoppolo. The 49ers may have to wait out training camp and see if something — an injury, a contract dispute or something else unforeseen — causes that to change.