A resolution to the disciplinary process involving Cleveland Browns’ new Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson was reached on Thursday after the NFL and players union agreed on an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine for Watson.
It’s harsher than the six-game suspension issued by former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, which would have cost Watson a fraction of his $230 million guaranteed by a groundbreaking contract. Neither the dozens of women who have accused Watson of sexual misconduct nor the millions of female NFL fans (especially Browns fans) are likely to be satisfied by the new compromise reached between the league and NFL Players Association, however severe it may be.
Although it’s insensitive to Watson’s victims, the league and the Browns can now move forward knowing exactly what their football situation will be like for the 2022 season.
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It’s also abundantly clear that they can’t sit on their hands and instead must move aggressively to acquire San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
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There is no denying the talent on Cleveland’s roster, which should be enough to get them to the AFC championship game in 2020. It’s possible that the Browns were good enough this season to make the playoffs despite Watson’s initial six-game suspension.
Not now, though, not while they’re still trying to figure out how to win in their division and the rest of the AFC.
Additional games against the Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills, and Buccaneers have been added to Watson’s suspension. All five of these teams have a chance to make the playoffs in 2022. If Cleveland keeps using veteran Jacoby Brissett as a replacement for Watson, they are in for a rough patch.
Manager of operations Andrew Berry appeared to disagree on Thursday. He continued, “We have a high degree of confidence in Jacoby, and that bodes well.”
Resumes usually don’t lie, and Brissett’s should prove otherwise.
Although he’s proven to be a solid backup, he hasn’t shown that he’s playoff material. He has a career record of 14–23 despite playing for perennial playoff contenders like the Patriots, Colts, and Dolphins throughout his entire career. Indy’s Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers led the team to the playoffs in 2018 and 2020, despite the fact that Brissett had a losing record in 19 of his 30 starts between 2017 and 2019. Last year, when Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa was injured, Brissett got the start at quarterback and struggled mightily in his place. The Dolphins lost four consecutive games in Weeks 2 through 5 thanks to Brissett, and their 9-8 record was essentially meaningless after that.
As the Browns have no proven wideouts besides Amari Cooper, who is also new to the team, why should we expect a different outcome now?
In retrospect, mending fences with Baker Mayfield, the man at the helm for Cleveland’s long-awaited playoff run in 2020, might have been the best course of action. The March acquisition of Watson, however, burned that bridge to the ground forever.
On the other hand, Garoppolo might be the man to lead a rescue mission on the shores of Lake Erie. Jimmy G., like Brissett, doesn’t have anything special going for him physically aside from his dazzling grin. Both quarterbacks have spent their entire careers with winning teams, and in 2016, they were teammates with the Patriots, making for a unique case study when comparing their careers.
The 2016 Patriots went on to win Super Bowl 51, but Garoppolo and Brissett split time under center twice that year with Brady suspended for Deflategate. Jimmy G. had a 71.2% completion rate, 496 yards passing, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 119.0 quarterback rating in two wins, but he was injured in the second game and had to leave early. As could be expected of a first-year player, Brissett struggled as a rookie, going 1-1 with a 61.8% completion rate, 400 yards passing, and an 83.9 quarterback rating.
Nonetheless, the gap has widened over the past few seasons, with Garoppolo’s 33-14 record in the regular season serving as the most striking example. In the NFC championship game last January, the Rams defeated the 49ers, but not before he led the team to the brink of a second Super Bowl appearance in three years. Garoppolo has thrown for 210 more yards in his career than Brissett, but he has a much higher completion percentage (67.7% vs. 60.2%), has nearly twice as many touchdown passes (71 vs. 36), and has a passer rating (98.9%) that is 16 points higher.
Similar to the 49ers’ attack, the Browns’ offense is built around establishing a ground game with the help of Pro Bowl RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who benefit from playing behind an exceptional line and are backed by Garoppolo’s play action prowess.
Garoppolo is an improvement and a perfect fit for the team. And despite Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski’s Thursday declaration, “We’re confident in (Brissett’s) abilities,” there is no time to waste.
Watson will be absent for a full three months. Garoppolo is currently in limbo, waiting for a one-way ticket to a team that needs him, while Trey Lance rises through the ranks as the starting quarterback for the Niners. After Zach Wilson went down with a knee injury in the first preseason game, it looked like the Jets could be that team for a brief moment last week. Fortunately, the injury was not as serious as was being reported on social media. As teams across the league prepare for their next exhibitions, a new suitor may emerge in the coming days.
Given that Cleveland.com reported last week that the Browns were considering trading for Garoppolo, one might wonder what’s keeping them from making a move. Since Garoppolo is owed $24.2 million in 2022, it would be inefficient to pay Watson, Brissett, and part of Mayfield’s salary at this time. However, this amount is negotiable. But Cleveland has the most cap space in the league ($49 million, per Over The Cap), so it shouldn’t be an issue if Jimmy G. can keep this ship afloat while re-establishing his reputation in advance of free agency in 2023.
Quick, get him to Ohio. Time is running out.
Nate Davis, a sports writer for USA TODAY, can be found on Twitter as @ByNateDavis.
This piece was published in the USA TODAY: In my opinion, the Browns should make a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo as a stopgap measure while they wait for Deshaun Watson to return from suspension.
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