Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo Excused: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for NFL QBs

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVJune 9, 2022

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 30: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass the ball in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It's not that often that as the calendar turns to June that a pair of experienced veteran quarterbacks who have each started at least 45 games and won a playoff game are both stuck in NFL limbo.

But this hasn't been a typical offseason—especially at the quarterback position.

Mandatory minicamps are firing up across the league, but you won't see Jimmy Gaproppolo of the San Francisco 49ers or Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns on the field when they do. Both quarterbacks have been excused from workouts, with ESPN's Nick Wagoner reporting that Garoppolo will sit while Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk wrote that Mayfield will sit out. Odds are good that neither quarterback will ever take a snap again for their respective teams.

It's a remarkable fall from grace for both quarterbacks. Garoppolo was the starter under center for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV and led San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game last season. Mayfield was the first overall pick in 2018 and guided the Browns to the franchise's first postseason victory in well over two decades in 2020.

There's been plenty written about how the two quarterbacks got to this unfortunate position. But at this point, the more pressing question is where they go from here.

What is the best-case scenario is for their futures moving forward? What's the worst? And which quarterback is the better investment?

Baker Mayfield

What a difference a year makes.

One year ago at this time. Mayfield was a star in the making. The Browns had won 11 games and trounced the Steelers in the Wild Card round. Mayfield had thrown for over 3,500 yards with 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. A massive extension seemed a foregone conclusion. The future was now.

But the Browns didn't extend Mayfield. And then the bottom fell out. Mayfield played most of the season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, and his production plummeted. Mayfield's numbers dropped across the board. His turnovers went up. And the Browns missed the playoffs.

Once the season ended, things went from bad to worse. Cleveland's courtship of Deshaun Watson didn't sit well with Mayfield, so much so that he penned a goodbye letter to fans of the team. That led an unnamed source to tell ESPN's Chris Mortensen (per Dan Lyons of Sports Illustrated) that the Browns wanted an "adult" at the position. The team finally did land Watson, but even if they hadn't, the relationship appeared to be irretrievably fractured.

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 03: Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to pass during the game against the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 03, 2022 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are several reasons why the Browns haven't been able to find a trade partner for Mayfield. The most obvious is that in two of Mayfield's four seasons, the 27-year-old hasn't played especially well. Yes, injuries played a part in last year's struggles. But Mayfield also made some bafflingly poor decisions with the football.

Then there's the matter of Mayfield's contract. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, he carries a 2022 salary of $18.9 million. That's a lot of money to play a player who is coming off a rough season and is one game under .500 as a starter with a career passer rating under 90. Mayfield also didn't do himself any favors with his public grousing about the pursuit of Watson—grousing that only served to reinforce the assertion in some circles that Mayfield is immature.

There's also the matter of Cleveland's lack of leverage in negotiations. The rest of the league knows that Mayfield is a lame duck quarterback who doesn't want to be on a team that doesn't want him. Per Jonathan Alexander of the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers discussed acquiring Mayfield back in April—but only if Cleveland paid the majority of his salary.

Best Case

The best-case outcome for Mayfield is an exceedingly unlikely one. With Watson staring at a potentially lengthy personal conduct suspension as the result of two dozen civil suits by women alleging sexual assault or misconduct during massage therapy sessions, the Browns could be headed into the season with only journeyman Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs under center. Say what you will about Mayfield, but he's an upgrade over them.

If both sides were willing to put aside hard feelings and work together, the Browns could get a quarterback to steer the team through Watson's suspension. Mayfield would get the best opportunity to rehab his stock before hitting free agency.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 12: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

But that's not going to happen.

Outside that fairy tale, Mayfield's best chance at turning his career around in 2022 likely depends on a team suffering an injury under center, a la Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota back in 2016. The Panthers and Seattle Seahawks don't appear to be interested in him, and the rest of the league is settled at quarterback, at least in the short term.

Worst Case

Unfortunately, the worst case for Mayfield is considerably more likely than the best. The Browns have reportedly indicated that they have no intention of releasing him, which is understandable—with his 2022 salary guaranteed, the Browns would essentially be paying Mayfield to play somewhere else.

With no real trade market for his services, it's possible that Mayfield could remain in limbo for the entire season. He'd hit free agency after sitting out an entire year following arguably the worst season of his professional career. That would all but certainly force him to take a modest, short-term deal in 2023—most likely as a backup.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Like Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo found himself on the wrong end of his team looking to upgrade at the NFL's most important position. But that's just about the only similarity between the two situations.

The Niners mortgaged their future a year ago to draft Garoppolo's replacement, trading three first-round picks and a third-rounder for the right to move up to No. 3 overall and select Trey Lance. But rather than pen a goodbye missive to fans, Garoppolo got to work. In 15 starts, Garoppolo completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,810 yards and 20 touchdowns while taking the team within a game of their second Super Bowl in three years.

Garoppolo had shoulder surgery back in March, and as Legwold reported, head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated that Garoppolo's rehab is why he won't be at minicamp—and also why he's still on the roster.

"Nothing's changed since the surgery, we knew where we were at before that, and then he got the surgery, so everything went on hold," Shanahan said. "I expect him at some time, most likely to be traded, but who knows. It's not a guarantee and it's been exactly on hold when that happened. And when he is healthy, we'll see what happens."

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 30: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 30-year-old Garoppolo isn't a worldbeater under center—he has just two 3,000-yard seasons in eight years in the league, he's tossed double-digit interceptions in two of the last three years and he has played in more than six games only twice. But he has completed over 67 percent of his passes for his career, has a career passer rating of 98.9 and most importantly he wins games—31 of his 45 starts in San Francisco.

Given Garoppolo's durability concerns, it's not surprising that the trade market for his services has been cool. Teams want at least some semblance of assurance that he's healthy before investing draft capital and taking on Garoppolo's $24.2 million base salary.

The problem for both player and team is that while Garoppolo has been rehabbing his shoulder, the market for his services has dried up significantly.

Best Case

The best case for Garoppolo also isn't especially likely, although it's more likely than Mayfield's

As was already mentioned, Shanahan said that it's not guaranteed the 49ers would deal Garoppolo. And if that's the case, then the best thing that could happen for Garoppolo is staying put.

There is also no guarantee that Lance is ready to take the reins of the offense for a team that fashions itself a Super Bowl contender. And if Lance isn't ready and/or San Francisco can't get the deal they desire, Garoppolo's best chances of success lie with the team where he's familiar with the offense and has a higher winning percentage as the starter than Aaron Rodgers does in Green Bay.

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 16: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) prepares to take the snap during the NFC Wild Card game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys on January 16, 2022 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Then, after one more season as San Francisco's starting quarterback, Garoppolo could hit free agency in 2023 with a much better chance of landing one more sizable contract.

Worst Case

There really isn't necessarily a "worst case" with Garoppolo—at least not one that's nearly as bad as Mayfield's.

With that said, there are situations that don't exactly set Garoppolo up for success—and they are with two of the more likely landing spots for him.

The Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks each have some firepower on offense, whether it's Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf in Seattle or D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey in Charlotte. There's also no disputing that Garoppolo would be an upgrade over the Drew Lock/Geno Smith morass in the Emerald City and Sam Darnold in Carolina.

But while Garoppolo would be better, he's not the kind of quarterback who can single-handedly lift up a franchise—and the Seahawks and Panthers are deeply flawed teams. Carolina and Seattle won just two more games combined than San Francisco in 2021.

Garoppolo's next contract will depend largely on his success (or lack thereof) in 2022. Leading a bad team isn't going to help his chances.

Who's 'The Guy?'

This is a question without a blanket answer. Which signal-caller is the better investment depends largely on the situation a team finds itself in.

For a rebuilding team like the Seahawks, Panthers or New York Giants, Mayfield is the better call. It's not a matter of a lower salary, although that's certainly a consideration. In a rebuild, the future is nearly as important as the present. And not only is Mayfield several years younger than Garoppolo, but if he can recapture his 2020 form, he has the higher ceiling.

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) hugs San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during the NFL regular season football game on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

However, as a temporary fill-in for an injured starter, a bridge to a rookie or even a stand-in during a potential Watson suspension, Garoppolo is the way to go. He's a more proven, consistent option than Mayfield. He may have a lower ceiling, but he has a higher floor. And as he showed last year in San Francisco, he's a pro's pro. Also, if the Niners do wind up releasing Garoppolo outright, he could be available at a reasonable cost cap-wise.

If it's safety and stability your team seeks, Garoppolo is your man. But if you're willing to gamble a little to chase potential upside, take Mayfield...