Trading for Jimmy Garoppolo is short-term fix Browns need after Deshaun Watson suspension | Opinion

Jimmy Garoppolo would represent a significant step up from Jacoby Brissett as a fill-in for Deshaun Watson, who was suspended Thursday for 11 games.

Nate Davis
USA TODAY

The Deshaun Watson disciplinary process finally reached resolution Thursday after the NFL and players union agreed to an 11-game suspension for the Cleveland Browns' recently acquired Pro Bowl quarterback, who will also pay a $5 million fine.

It's a more severe punishment than the original six-game ban issued by former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, one that also would have cost Watson a pittance from a groundbreaking contract that guarantees him $230 million. The new compromise between the league and NFL Players Association is certainly harsher, even if unlikely to be embraced as sufficient by the two dozen women who accused Watson of sexual misconduct or the NFL's millions of female fans – particularly those who support Cleveland.

While it's unfeeling to Watson's victims to regard the matter as closed, that's exactly what it is from the perspective of the league and the Browns, who move forward knowing precisely what their football circumstances are heading into the 2022 season.

And it's pretty clear they can't stand pat – and need not hesitate to execute a trade for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

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San Francisco 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates after an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis.

Make no mistake, Cleveland has a talented roster – a good chunk of it nearly thrusting the team into the AFC championship game following the 2020 season. The Browns might even have been good enough to survive Watson's initial six-game penalty and snatch a wild card this year.

But not now, not while trying to navigate the rigors of their division and AFC at large.

The extra five games tacked onto Watson's ban are against the Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills and Buccaneers – a quintet that could realistically wind up in the 2022 postseason. It's an unsurvivable stretch if Cleveland sticks with Watson's stand-in, veteran Jacoby Brissett.

General manager Andrew Berry seemed to disagree Thursday. "We feel very good about Jacoby," he said, adding, "we have a high degree of confidence in him."

Brissett's résumé should suggest otherwise.

A quality backup, he's nevertheless provided no evidence he's playoff caliber. Despite spending his entire career with solid teams like the Patriots, Colts and Dolphins, he has a 14-23 record. Brissett lost 19 of 30 starts for Indianapolis split between the 2017 and 2019 campaigns, yet the team reached postseason under Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Brissett was not effective filling in for Miami's Tua Tagovailoa last season, taking the bulk of the snaps during a four-game skid from Weeks 2 through 5 that essentially ended the Fins' season even though they finished 9-8.

Why expect a different result now, especially given the Browns don't have any established receivers aside from Amari Cooper, who's also new to the organization?

The best fallback for Cleveland probably would have been rapprochement with Baker Mayfield, who was at the controls for that long-awaited postseason run in 2020. But that bridge was irrevocably incinerated upon Watson's acquisition in March.

Yet Garoppolo could be the guy to pull off a salvage operation on the shores of Lake Erie. Like Brissett, Jimmy G.'s physical tools – aside from that marquee smile – are unremarkable. Both quarterbacks have spent their entire careers with good teams and were even teammates in 2016 with New England – and that presents an interesting case study to the comparison.

Those 2016 Patriots ultimately won Super Bowl 51, but Garoppolo and Brissett each started twice that season while Tom Brady served his Deflategate suspension. Jimmy G. shined in two victorious starts (71.2% completion rate, 496 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 119.0 QB rating) but didn't finish the second game due to a shoulder injury. Brissett was a rookie that year and, unsurprisingly, less effective (61.8% completion rate, 400 yards, 83.9 QB rating) while going 1-1.

But the schism has widened during the intervening seasons, most notably Garoppolo's 33-14 regular-season record. He almost guided the Niners to a second Super Bowl berth in three seasons before falling just short in last January's NFC title game loss to the Rams. Garoppolo only has 210 more career passing attempts than Brissett but is far more accurate – his career completion percentage (67.7%) dwarfing that of Brissett (60.2%) – has nearly twice as many TD passes (71 vs. 36), and his passer rating (98.9) is 16 points higher than Brissett's.

Garoppolo also excels at play action, and – like the 49ers' attack – the Browns' offense is predicated on establishing a ground game propelled by Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, both operating behind an exceptional line.

Bottom line: Garoppolo is an upgrade who fits hand in glove. And despite the sentiments expressed by Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski, who declared, "We're confident in (Brissett's) abilities," on Thursday, there's no time to waste.

Watson is out of the picture for the next three months. Garoppolo, amid Trey Lance's ascendance, is throwing on a side field at Niners HQ, rebuilding strength in his surgically repaired shoulder while in limbo and awaiting a one-way ticket to a team that needs him. It appeared for a moment last week that the Jets might be that team after Zach Wilson suffered a knee injury, which turned out to be less serious than Twitter speculated, in the preseason opener. A new suitor could well emerge in the coming days as clubs across the league suit up for their next exhibitions.

So, if you're the Browns – they were considering a move for Garoppolo last week, per Cleveland.com – what's the holdup? It's obviously suboptimal to pay Watson, Brissett, and a chunk of Mayfield's salary given Garoppolo is due $24.2 million in 2022, though that could be negotiated down in a deal. But given Jimmy G.'s capability to keep this ship afloat while showcasing himself anew ahead of free agency in 2023, money shouldn't be an impediment given Cleveland has – by far – the most cap space in the league ($49 million, per Over The Cap).

Get him to Ohio, pronto. Clock's ticking.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.