The Browns and 49ers find themselves in limbo with the two most viable starting QBs available in the NFL market. They’ve arrived here coming from the opposite ends of the spectrum and will have two completely different approaches to how they approach the relationship and moves to make when it comes to their respective QBs.
The 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy G is in the final year of his 5-year, $137,500,000 contract. The contract is one of the most interesting in the league, as the 49ers knew they would need to make him an offer towards being one of the highest paid QBs in the NFL at the time of signing. They also knew they were a year or two away from being competitive.
They made the decision to front-load his cash and cap hit ($37,000,000 in year one), making the second half of his contract much more manageable and team friendly. He is owed $24,200,000 in base salary with a salary cap hit of $26,950,000. If the team decides to cut or trade him, they will save all but $1,400,00 of that.
The two sides have a completely amicable relationship, and the 49ers have been working with Jimmy to find a trade that suits him. My estimation is that they are having trouble finding someone to trade for him because of the contract, injury risk, and need.
- Contract: To trade for a player you will pay over $24,000,000, you are committing to him being your day one starter.
- Injury Risk: Jimmy has missed 24 games over the last six seasons due to injury. Coupled with the vastly reported injuries he played through during the end of this season, Jimmy is at best an injury question mark and at worst a liability.
- Need: The Seahawks, Giants, Lions, Falcons, Panthers, Steelers, and Texans are now the most likely teams to trade for a QB before the start of the season barring devastating injury to an expected starter in the pre-season. The Seahawks are off the table, as the 49ers won’t trade in division, and the Falcons and Steelers added former starters already. The Giants, Lions, and Panthers all have former first round QBs who can start, and the Texans seem to be willing to move forward with Davis Mills. Basically, no team is in dire need at the moment.
So where does this leave the 49ers and Jimmy? The answer is there is no need to make a move just to make a move. While the 49ers could use the cap space to extend upcoming players early, they also have Trey Lance on a rookie deal and have some flexibility in that area. If the 49ers transition to Trey, it should be amicable and Jimmy can step in if needed due to injury. If a Super Bowl-caliber team loses their QB to injury in training camp and Jimmy shows he is healthy, the return on a trade would be much greater then than it is right now. The 49ers are operating from a position of strength. At the end of the day, if Jimmy and his camp decide he wants to be cut and explore free agency, or if the 49ers decide they need the cap space, they can also release him.
The Browns and Baker Mayfield
The Browns and Baker Mayfield are basically the complete inverse of Jimmy and the 49ers. Cleveland just made one of the most significant moves in NFL history. They were in a position where they could either extend Baker and build around him or give Deshaun Watson the most guaranteed money in NFL history. In fact, they gave Watson more money than they’ve paid the QB position from 2001-2021, including a cap hit of $54,993,000 from 2023-2026. Of course, they chose to move on from Mayfield. For a team to trade three first round picks and more, give that much guaranteed money, and overlook the quantity and impact of his sexual assault accusations, it shows more about Mayfield than many teams need to know.
Baker is currently playing on his 5th year option, which carries a guaranteed dollar amount of $18,858,000. This means the Browns cannot cut him without paying him that full amount, and it would still count against their cap if they cut him. They also don’t have the flexibility of keeping him on their roster as a backup option for Watson. They signed Jacoby Brissett to back up Watson after trading for him, showing they’re in the process of unloading Mayfield. The Browns hold no leverage.
While the 49ers can wait until training camp to move Jimmy G, or even hold onto him for the year, the Browns need to remove Baker from the team and locker room. Their best hope is to find a team who had Baker rated very highly by scouts when he went No. 1 overall, and whose Pro Scouting department has graded him as a viable starter.
Baker was open to the media that his desired destination was Indianapolis, but that door closed Monday when the Colts traded for Matt Ryan. Baker’s best hope is to go to one of the QB-needy teams listed above and beat out their current starter.
It has been reported that the only offers for Baker have been the kind of offer that the Browns gave for Brock Osweiler in a “cap dump” move. While I don’t think it will be as lopsided of a trade as the Osweiler trade (Osweiler + Texans 2018 second round pick + Texans 2017 sixth round pick for the Browns 2017 fourth round pick), the Browns will have to take it if it’s their only option. They need to move the cap hit. I would be furiously making phone calls to try to get some sort of positive return. But if that was the only possibility they could find, I would advise the Browns to make that move.