As the Browns continue to search for a quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers are gushing over the fact that they have him. His late-season play changed everything about a struggling team, and showed the importance of finding the right quarterback.
There might be no clear answer.
But there are clear perceptions -- and those perceptions certainly point to the trade deadline as one factor in why Browns owner Jimmy Haslam made a front-office change to John Dorsey in December. In Haslam’s mind, the setup he created with Sashi Brown as vice president of football operations and Hue Jackson as coach could no longer exist.
The Garoppolo saga might be an indicator why.
In the offseason, the Browns inquired often about trading for Garoppolo, and left the many phone calls and discussions with the Patriots believing Bill Belichick would not trade him.
The Browns were convinced that Belichick felt he had to have Garoppolo as an insurance policy in case Tom Brady, 40, got injured.
But as the trade deadline approached, Garoppolo -- a guy Belichick drafted in the second round -- was suddenly shipped to San Francisco.
The deal was a surprise to the NFL. That it wasn’t the Browns pulling the trigger on the deal was puzzling, but what made it worse was that the 49ers gave up only a second-round draft pick. With two first-round picks, the Browns could have easily offered more for Garoppolo.
A lengthy analysis of the Patriots' situation related to Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft from ESPN’s Seth Wickersham reports that Belichick more or less decided he would deal with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers:
“One morning in late October, Belichick texted San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and asked him to call. Belichick had long admired Kyle's father, Mike, who not only had been one of the NFL's smartest tacticians but had also personally defended Belichick to commissioner Roger Goodell during the Spygate scandal. At the combine this past February, Kyle, weeks into the 49ers job after being the offensive coordinator for the Falcons, met with Belichick for hours to learn from his team's humiliating Super Bowl loss. Belichick believed that Garoppolo would excel under Shanahan, and when he and Shanahan connected on the phone, Belichick offered the quarterback for a second-rounder.”
To hear this tale, Belichick never considered the Browns. The story makes it sound as if, in a fit of pique over being told by Kraft to trade Garoppolo, Belichick followed orders and traded with the person he wanted, not with the team that could give him the best offer.
The Browns have never commented publicly, but the team felt Belichick wanted nothing to do with the Browns and sending Garoppolo to Cleveland. The reason gets to a lot of speculation.
One factor ESPN’s Chris Mortensen has reported is that Garoppolo’s agent, Don Yee, made it clear Garoppolo would not sign a long-term contract with the Browns. However, an agent and player have only so much control in this situation. Any team that acquired Garoppolo would merely have to apply the franchise tag to keep him, and the Browns had the cap room to do just that.
If it was evident to Belichick that Garoppolo did not want to join a losing -- and bad -- situation in Cleveland, he might have gone along with the player’s desire. Trading with San Francisco also resulted in Belichick getting a needed backup he knew in Brian Hoyer, something the Browns could not provide.
The Browns’ front office also believed that Belichick retains lingering resentment over how he was treated in Cleveland and would not deal with the Browns. But that certainly did not come into play when the Browns acquired Jamie Collins from the Patriots in 2016.
Another factor is that Belichick knew how good Garoppolo could be and wanted him out of the AFC.
Except the Browns could have offered a draft choice that has turned out to be the No. 4 pick in the draft, and the Patriots would have been better served.
The view of the coaching staff in Cleveland -- a staff desperate for a win -- was that, if a team wants to trade for a guy, it has to make it happen, not sit back and wait for it to happen.
The Browns were aggressive in the offseason but were blindsided by this trade during the season. They were in touch with the Patriots, but not to the point that Belichick called them when he was told to trade Garoppolo, a player he had staunchly fought against trading for months.
Cleveland's coaching staff felt that being proactive could have had the Browns in a position to make a better offer. If you want a guy, you have to go get him.
The front office would say: We had no chance to get him. Belichick dealt only with the 49ers. And we had no reason to believe he had changed his mind about not trading him.
That Belichick wound up trading Garoppolo to Shanahan has to be another bitter pill for the Browns to accept. Shanahan was with the Browns for one season, was involved in the Ray Farmer texting situation, lived through Johnny Manziel and was allowed out of his contract in Cleveland by Haslam after he made several points why he wanted out. Now it’s Shanahan who has the quarterback the Browns wanted?
The ramifications were easily evident. Shaken that a quarterback they wanted was in San Francisco, the Browns made a move to acquire Cincinnati Bengals backup AJ McCarron -- and offered the Bengals more for McCarron than the 49ers gave for Garoppolo.
Then they didn’t get the paperwork submitted in time. And became the subject of national ridicule.
That happened on Oct. 31.
Haslam hired Dorsey on Dec. 7 to replace Brown. When he did, Haslam said the trade deadline machinations had nothing to do with the move. But he also said that he had started talking to candidates to replace Brown about four weeks before the hire.
One week after the trade deadline.