Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
The Browns’ pursuit of a trade for New England backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could come to a head at the NFL owners meetings beginning Sunday in Phoenix.
Either the door to a trade will be formally slammed shut by the Patriots, or the Browns will make inroads into dealing for the three-year understudy to Tom Brady.
Neither the Patriots nor the Browns have publicly stated any acknowledgement that a possible deal is alive or dead. The Browns’ actions suggest they are not convinced of either.
At the NFL combine last month, Browns officials simply declined to comment on Garoppolo rather than deny the possibility of furthering a deal.
Several teams thought to be interested in pursuing Garoppolo have turned the page and added other veteran quarterbacks instead -- either convinced Garoppolo is unavailable or conceding they can’t compete with the well-fortified Browns to make a deal. San Francisco signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, Chicago signed Mike Glennon and the Jets signed Josh McCown.
But the Browns have not made such a move.
On the contrary, they have made accommodations seemingly to step up a pursuit of Garoppolo. They released McCown and Robert Griffin, and then made a controversial trade to acquire an additional second-round pick in 2018, giving them three in that draft to go along with two second-round picks in the 2017 draft.
They also acquired maligned Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler in that transaction, but indications are strong they hoped to flip Osweiler to another team or simply release him despite taking on his $16 million guaranteed contract.
An NFL source familiar with all the principals involved speculated the Browns “would make another run” at Garoppolo at the league meetings. There, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick could interact in person -- rather than via telephone -- with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and chief deal-maker Sashi Brown, the club’s executive vice president of football operations.
The seeds of trades often are sown in the fertile grounds of the league meetings. If a trade is still viable -- even the optimists believe it is a long shot -- the source said it’s possible it may not be consummated until closer to the April 27 draft.
While the Garoppolo issue is in a holding pattern, he remains on top of the ESPN Cleveland Browns Quarterback Tracker.
The tracker assigns points -- out of a total of 100 -- to the top contenders to start the season at quarterback for the Browns.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots (22 points)
Bereft of first- and second-round picks, Belichick could recoup a No. 1 from the Saints for restricted free-agent cornerback Malcolm Butler. If that falls through, odds of a Garoppolo trade might improve.
2. Cody Kessler, Browns (20 points)
3. Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina (17 points)
Would the Browns saddle the burden of playing in his hometown to the least-experienced of the top draft prospects? He could be Plan B if Garoppolo is unavailable. Browns attendance at his pro day Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, will be scrutinized.
4. Davis Webb, California (13 points)
The strapping, big-armed, son-of-a-coach checks off a lot of boxes Hue Jackson has itemized for his next quarterback. Over-drafting a quarterback in the second round -- where Webb could be had -- is much less egregious than over-drafting in the first round.
5. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame (11 points)
He admitted he takes the job of quarterback too seriously. Which is better than not taking it seriously enough.
6. Deshaun Watson, Clemson (11 points)
He declined to join Hue Jackson and his staff at the Senior Bowl. Jackson and his staff declined to attend his pro day. Coincidence ... or not?
7. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech (3 points)
He debuts on the tracker because analytics mavens tout him as the best prospect. But the time needed to develop him requires a bona fide starter ahead of him.
8. Josh Dobbs, Tennessee (1 point)
Exceptionally bright dual-threat QB with a nice arm who impressed many at the Senior Bowl. He is considered a mid-round developmental project. The aerospace engineer graduate could moonlight at the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center.
9. Brock Osweiler, Browns (1 point)
If anyone has a gripe for being blackballed, it is this tall, young and healthy passer with a 13-8 career won-loss record. He visited Browns headquarters last week and has been assigned jersey No. 17, but still has not merited a photo on the team’s official web site.
10. Colin Kaepernick, free agent (1 point)
Seemingly unwanted, he may be feeling consequences of his controversial National Anthem-sitting (then kneeling) protest of social injustices. His 3-16 record the past two seasons doesn’t help his cause.
Dropped out: Geno Smith, Chase Daniel.