If Deshaun Watson’s suspension is significantly lengthened, Jimmy Garoppolo might be the answer for the Cleveland Browns while their starting QB is away. Cleveland beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot wrote about a possible fling between Garoppolo and the Browns.
It makes sense on paper. Both offenses are rooted in the West Coast verbiage, so it wouldn’t be too much to ask a veteran like Garoppolo to pick up the subtle nuances in a slightly different language.
But while most of the Dawg Pound is coping with this by running blindly into the distance with optimism about the union, it’s not nearly as cut and dry as “both places run the same system,” because there are massive differences if one takes the time to turn on a few games of each offense.
That shouldn’t dissuade the Browns from making a move if they think Garoppolo gives them a better chance to win than Jacoby Brissett.
Jimmy Garoppolo could win with the Browns’ roster
Heading into an entire NFL season with Brissett when a perceived upgrade is on the market sets a bad example. “Perceived” is a critical descriptor here, but we’ll get to that. The Browns have some elite talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball and on the offensive line.
Cleveland also boasts nearly double the 2022 cap space as the next-closest team, so they’re not hurting for bread either. And when a mid-to-late round pick is all it costs to acquire a starting-caliber QB, a team must take it.
The Browns also make the most sense for Garoppolo, who will be looking to secure another long-term deal after 2022. We all know he has a superb record as a starting quarterback in San Francisco (31-14), particularly compared to his team’s record in games that he missed. While Cleveland hasn’t put it all together with their talent yet, the roster rivals the 49ers.
There’s only one (major) problem.
Garoppolo isn’t very good. In fact, he’s worse than Baker Mayfield. And while he might be more consistent than Brissett, Garoppolo doesn’t have his upside as a passer or runner. Now, he’s better than the severely injured Mayfield we saw in 2021, but overall, Garoppolo provides far less on the field than the former No. 1 overall pick.
But that’s okay because as long as he can avoid mistakes, the Browns’ offense will move the ball. It won’t have the explosive downfield presence it had with Mayfield, but it should be efficient.
Garoppolo doesn’t offer great value to the position besides his extraordinary ball-handling skills, which will undoubtedly help the Browns’ rushing attack and their play-action game. He also has absolutely zero playmaking ability outside of the pocket and is a downgrade here compared to Brissett.
In 2021, Garoppolo attacked 21+ yards downfield 28 times compared to Mayfield’s 42, making the explosive plays SF produced in the passing game a product of scheme and receiving talent rather than the quarterback’s ability.
And that is where the real sticking point is regarding this potential pairing.
Cleveland Browns’ passing attack must get a makeover
The problem with assuming success is it will take the passing attack completely changing its look for success to come. One look at the heat map between Garoppolo and Mayfield shows a stark difference between the two players.
Something that becomes painfully obvious when watching Garoppolo’s reliance on attacking the middle of the field is at around the 10-yard mark. For that to even be a thing, there must be an abundance of horizontal concepts called in the passing attack.
A few games into Cleveland’s passing attack and you’ll find that this “match made in heaven” might be a bit overstated.
One thing Garoppolo is consistently solid with is getting the ball out in the quick game. That ability is almost exclusively tailored close to the hashes, but he has no problem finding windows to attack against zone coverage or understanding his man-beating routes and putting the ball in the right place there.
But the 49ers’ passing attack is hilariously horizontal compared to Cleveland’s, which felt more like the Jason Garrett Air Coryell attack he ran with Dallas for so long. There were several receivers running to the sticks and turning around in Cleveland’s passing attack. While that’s probably more to do with Mayfield’s comfortability with those concepts outside and at the numbers, it’s a complete departure from Garoppolo’s strengths.
But this is by no means a signal that Garoppolo and the Browns would fail. They would simply need to change the way they do things, and their personnel allows for it.
If Amari Cooper can stay on the field, he will be a massive proponent of Garoppolo’s potential success. There are only a handful of route runners in the league like Cooper, and his strength is his ability to win at the intermediate level. Many of Cooper’s big plays in Dallas came working over the middle.
It’s really impossible to adequately express just how important the middle of the field is to Garoppolo. David Bell, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant should all see a fair amount of targets because of this. Meanwhile, Anthony Schwartz will see time as a decoy to influence safeties while rarely finding the football floating his way.
Sticking it out with Jacoby Brissett might be the best option
There’s no upside with Garoppolo, and his turnover-worthy play percentage was tied for second-worst in the NFL last season, a product of his propensity to throw over the middle. It’s a more dangerous area of the field because there’s much more trash to pick through, and his nonchalant nature on short passes over the middle often leads to the ball sailing.
There is no magical remedy to losing Watson for an extended period.
With this in mind, the best option might be to bite the proverbial bullet and run with Brissett, especially when they could use the $50 million in cap space they’ve kept, offsetting the $32 million negative balance waiting for them in 2023.
The AFC is too competitive to make the Super Bowl with Garoppolo as the quarterback anyways.