After months of uncertainty, the Cleveland Browns and their newly acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson can finally see a clear path forward.
Independent referee and former federal judge Sue L. Robinson suspended Watson for six games Monday after ruling that he had violated NFL guidelines on player conduct on multiple occasions. The punishment is linked to 24 civil lawsuits filed by women against the QB alleging sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault.
The league still reserves the ability to appeal the verdict, which fell short of the one-year suspension the NFL sought for Watson. But should the tally come in at six games, the Browns will have an interesting decision to make – who to start under center while Watson is sidelined for more than a third of the regular season.
If Week 1 started this Sunday, the answer would be replacement Jacoby Brissett, whom Cleveland signed to a one-year deal during the offseason. In Watson’s absence, Josh Dobbs, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Josh Rosen, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons, would battle it out for second place.
However, there is another potential option should the Browns decide to do so — a trade for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
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ESPN’s Jake Trotter on Aug. 1 laid out the Browns’ current situation as quarterback after the Watson suspension and floated the idea of a trade with the Niners for Garoppolo.
The balance of the Browns’ decision will likely come down to a combination of money, schedule strength and what they believe they can achieve in six games with Watson on the bench.
Cleveland currently leads the NFL in salary caps and has more than $48.7 million at its disposal. That means they can afford to take on the last year of Garoppolo’s $137 million contract, which includes a cap of just under $27 million. The Niners are definitely looking to trade him as the squad has publicly indicated that they are moving to last year’s first-round draft selection Trey Lance.
Despite the available cap space, the Browns have had an expensive offseason due to several trade acquisitions, including Watson and former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper, paying some massive contract extensions for players like cornerback Denzel Ward and tight end David Njoku.
The first question will be whether an investment in Garoppolo is necessary for the team’s desired win/loss results given the Browns’ schedule includes four home games against the Steelers, Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets , as well as two away games against the Panthers and the Falcons?
The second question to answer, should the team’s answer to the first question be yes, is whether $27 million is too much to salvage an already expensive season?
Garoppolo is undoubtedly an upgrade over the Browns’ quarterbacks, who are eligible to play in their first six games of the year, as he boasts a career-record 33-14 as a starter, according to Pro Football Reference. Garoppolo also has a playoff record of 5-2 and has started two NFC Championship games as well as a Super Bowl.