Even as the San Francisco 49ers were in the midst of an impressive playoff run all the way to the NFC championship game last season, the writing was on the wall for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers had already drafted his replacement, using a 2021 first round pick on Trey Lance. The team was transparent in their intention to let Lance sit on the bench and learn for a season before taking over as the starter in 2022.
But Garoppolo figured to see a competitive market for his services. He’s not a star, but he’s proven to be a reliable game manager who has played in two NFC title games and a Super Bowl in his career as a starter. He completed 68 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.
He also stayed healthy, starting 15 regular season games after playing in just six the previous season.
The 49ers may have over-estimated his value as the market for his services has not provided the Niners the return they were looking for to this point.
But perhaps an even stranger quarterback situation could finally find Garoppolo a landing spot.
The Cleveland Browns have been rumored to want to move on from former No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield at several different points in his career. Mayfield has been an at times dynamic playmaker, but has also struggled with his accuracy and decision-making.
He led the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2003 in 2020, but the team and him underachieved last season.
The Browns pulled off the highest profile move of the offseason by trading for All-Pro quarterback Deshaun Watson and signing him to a mega guaranteed contract. The writing on the wall was clear for Mayfield that he no longer figured into the team’s plans.
But he’s awkwardly still on the roster, and as Watson possibly faces a year suspension from the NFL related to several sexual assault allegations made against him, the Browns could be in a strange position of having to turn back to Mayfield.
Trading for Garoppolo as a stopgap replacement for Watson is a rumored solution. He could fill in as a competent starter for Cleveland, with Watson returning next season to take over the starting job.
Garoppolo is an easier player to forecast a landing spot for. He doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as the younger Mayfield, but he’s cheaper and wouldn’t necessarily represent a long-term commitment. Those make the return teams would have to give up to get him much smaller, likely only a late round draft pick.
As teams deal with injuries or look to add depth in training camp, the market for Garoppolo could heat up in the coming weeks.
Mayfield offers more upside to a potential new team. He’s still just 27 and has shown that he can play at an All-Pro level with the right talent around him. But he’s also more of a risk, as his play has fluctuated more wildly than the steady Garoppolo’s. He is paid more and would likely also require a team giving up more assets in a trade to get him.
As for Mayfield, he’s long been linked with Carolina. The Panthers tried one former high draft pick at quarterback last year in Sam Darnold with poor results. The team didn’t draft a clear quarterback of the future this year and also didn’t address the position in free agency. Mayfield makes a huge amount of sense there.
Both players have lingered on the market far longer than expected, but as the season approaches, injuries happen, and teams get more desperate at the game’s most important position, expect both to be in new situations soon.