CLEVELAND — As the Cleveland Browns continue their pursuit of Deshaun Watson, it appears that Baker Mayfield's time with the team has likely come to an end.
According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Browns and Mayfield are headed for a breakup regardless of whether the team lands Watson -- a sentiment seemingly backed up by the letter to Cleveland that Mayfield posted to social media regarding his uncertain future on Tuesday night.
And while it appears that Watson is the Browns' top choice to be their starting quarterback in 2022, there's no guaranteeing Cleveland will land the three-time Pro Bowl selection, who is also being pursued by the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons. With that in mind, let's take a look at the quarterback options remaining for the Browns should they fail to land Watson and part ways with Mayfield.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Of all the quarterbacks who were expected to be on the move this offseason, Jimmy Garoppolo has yet to do so. Following the 49ers' season-ending defeat to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, the 30-year-old signal-caller told reporters that he and the team would work together on a trade as second-year quarterback Trey Lance takes over as San Francisco's starter.
Should the Browns strike out on Watson, it would be tough to find a better fit than Garoppolo, who just spent five seasons playing in a 49ers offense that has plenty in common with Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski's system. And with the quarterback market drying up, acquiring Garoppolo may not prove costly either, although it's worth noting that he's currently recovering from shoulder surgery.
As far as competition is concerned, Garoppolo has also been linked to the Indianapolis Colts, who are in need of a new starter after trading Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders. Considering his experience and proven track as a quarterback you can win with, the Eastern Illinois product would likely be Cleveland's top choice in the event it fails to land Watson.
Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders
Considered one of the top free-agent quarterbacks on this year's market, Marcus Mariota has yet to sign anywhere -- likely because Watson has yet to be moved. The No. 2 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, Mariota hasn't been a full-time starter since the 2018 season and has spent the last two years backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas.
Nevertheless, the 28-year-old's athleticism and pedigree make him an intriguing target, especially for Stefanski's system. And in the event that the Browns don't land Watson and find themselves with limited options, signing Mariota to a reasonable contract may be a better choice than overpaying for a signal-caller Cleveland's front office isn't actually enthused about.
Gardner Minshew II, Philadelphia Eagles
Gardner Minshew II is currently under contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, but could likely be had for an affordable price. That could be noteworthy to the Browns if they remain in the market for a quarterback following the Watson sweepstakes, as the Washington State product had appeared in 27 games (22 starts) over the course of the first three years of his NFL career.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons or Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Should Watson land in Atlanta or New Orleans, it would also cause a ripple effect on the quarterback market. Should he sign with the Falcons, Atlanta would be forced to trade Matt Ryan, while acquiring Watson would likely prevent the Saints from re-signing Jameis Winston, who is currently a free agent.
The Browns' preference would likely be acquiring Ryan, a former MVP who has experience in a system similar to Stefanski's and would fit Cleveland's win-now approach. Winston, however, could also be an intriguing option for the Browns, as the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft showed improvement in 2021 before suffering a season-ending knee injury.