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Browns must explore trades for big-name QBs such as Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Russell Wilson: Mary Kay Cabot

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 1/27/2022 Mary Kay Cabot,
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett pressures Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on a pass play in the first half. © John Kuntz/ Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett pressures Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on a pass play in the first half.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Despite stating in his wrapup press conference Jan. 11 that the Browns “fully expect” Baker Mayfield to start in a bounce-back 2022, GM Andrew Berry has no choice but to explore all of his quarterback options this offseason.

With no obvious marquee names in the NFL draft, Berry must do his due diligence on veterans who might become available via trade. With nine head coaching vacancies, the QB carousel will start spinning soon.

Even though trades can’t become official until the NFL league year begins on March 16, trade parameters can be agreed upon before then. The Matt Stafford for Jared Goff trade took place last Jan. 31, and was consummated almost two months later.

The Browns must be ready to pull the trigger if they see an upgrade, because the competition will likely be fierce. Plenty of teams will be — or could be — in the market for a quarterback, including the Steelers and Colts.

Big names who could hit the trade market include Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Las Vegas’ Derek Carr, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins and Houston’s Deshaun Watson. Some make sense from a scheme and financial standpoint, and the Browns owe it to themselves and their fan base to inquire.

As for future Hall of Famers such as Rodgers and Wilson possibly not wanting to come to Cleveland, never say never. The Browns are a few elite offensive weapons and some better QB play away from being a Super Bowl contender. Premier quarterbacks want to win Super Bowls, and the Browns offer an excellent defense, running game and offensive line. Rodgers, who’s mulling his future, would make them an instant contender, especially if he could lure top receiver and pending free agent Davante Adams here.

Rodgers is close to Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, with whom he worked for seven seasons in Green Bay. Van Pelt was his position coach from 2014-17, and Rodgers was NFL MVP for a second time in 2014. He was also dismayed when Van Pelt was fired after the 2017 season.

With a base salary of $26.470 million in 2022, Rodgers would be affordable, especially if the Browns traded Mayfield — which they would undoubtedly try to do. The Packers would save $27.490 million on the cap with a dead hit of $19,173 million after June 1.

The Browns also have obvious connections to Cousins, who spent two seasons in Minnesota with Kevin Stefanski — in 2018 as his QB coach then interim offensive coordinator, and 2019 as his full-time coordinator. In 2019, Cousins went 10-5 and finished with a career-high 107.4 rating, fourth in the NFL. He also threw 26 touchdowns against a career-low six interceptions. He completed 69.1 of his attempts and set a Vikings season record for completions with 425 and the second-most passing yards (4,298).

The Vikings are searching for a head coach to replace the fired Mike Zimmer, and hired their new GM on Tuesday in former Browns Vice President of Football Operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. If the Vikings opt for a new QB, Adofo-Mensah and Berry could possibly discuss a trade for Cousins, fourth last season with a 103.1 rating, that may or may not involve Mayfield. The Vikings have the No. 12 pick in the draft, one ahead of the Browns.

Cousins, whose future will depend in large part on the new coach, has a base salary of $35 million in 2022, the final year of his contract. Mayfield is heading into his fifth-year option year at $18.858 million.

The Browns would also likely be intrigued by Carr. Despite a loss to the Bengals in the Wild Card round, Carr led the Raiders to a 10-8 mark this season, including a 16-14 victory over the Browns. Finishing 14th in the NFL with a 94.0 rating, Carr could become available depending on the Raiders’ hires at GM and head coach.

With a base salary of $19.777 million in the final year of his contract, Carr would make perfect cap sense for 2022, especially if the Browns can package Mayfield in a swap. Like most quarterbacks acquired in a trade, Carr would be in line for a contract extension. A QB of his caliber could also help attract an Adams or other elite wideout.

The 49ers will find themselves in an interesting position if Garoppolo beats the Rams in the NFC Championship Game. They traded up to No. 3 last year to draft Trey Lance, and will want to turn the reins over at some point. Finishing ninth with a 98.7 rating, Garoppolo has a base salary of $24.2 million in the final year of his deal, and the 49ers would save $25.55 million if they trade him. The 49ers and Garoppolo have acknowledged he might be on the move.

Video: Is Russell Wilson on the move? NFL insider confirms massive interest in landing Seattle QB (SMG)

Wilson, fifth in the NFL with a 103. 1 rating, has two years left on his deal with Seattle, but has also made no promises about his 2022 whereabouts.

“I know for me personally, I hope it’s not my last game [in Seattle], but at the same time I know it won’t be my last game in the NFL,” Wilson told reporters before the season’s last home game. “So I’m just focused on today and getting better today. That’s my focus, that’s my goal. I love this city and love this moment and I love these guys, so we’ve just got to make sure we get better today. That’s the only thing that matters.”

He said his goal is to win three more Super Bowls, and hopes they’re in Seattle. He also has a no-trade clause, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last year that he’d waive it for a trade to Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas or New Orleans.

The last of the big-name passers to possibly be available is Houston’s Deshaun Watson. Accused of sexual misconduct and harassment by 22 masseuses, Watson is an enormous off-field risk with a possible sentence looming. Watson also has a no-trade clause and the Texans reportedly want multiple first-round picks.

The Browns could stand pat and hope that Mayfield, recovering from labrum surgery in his left shoulder, returns to his second half of 2020 form, when he was one of the league’s hottest quarterbacks.

In the meantime, they must explore all avenues to upgrade the position and be poised to beat the Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allens and Joe Burrows of the NFL.

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