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Why Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield are stranded during the NFL’s QB carousel

Is anyone going to want either QB?

The NFL quarterback carousel is slowing to a stop, and there’s two horses nobody seems to want. Jimmy Garoppolo now seems destined to be relegated to the bench or released with the 49ers committing to Trey Lance, while Baker Mayfield has gone from Cleveland darling to throwaway in a matter of two short years.

This isn’t just a case of needing to wait and see where they’ll land. Rather, it’s looking more and more like neither quarterback will have a place to start in 2022. It’s pretty wild considering Garopollo led the 49ers to the NFC Championship, and Mayfield took the Browns to the playoffs in 2020. Their collective fate underscores a primary problem with quarterbacks in 2022: Teams either want to be really good, or really bad — and there’s not much room in the middle.

That’s the primary issue for Garoppolo and Mayfield. Teams don’t believe either is talented enough to win a Super Bowl, and bad teams aren’t willing to take on their salaries in exchange for winning a handful more games. At this point nobody is looking at either player as a long-term solution, and contending teams who could have been interested have now found other options. Of course, it hasn’t helped that both are injured leaving question marks there too.

That said, at the beginning of the offseason it felt like there would be no shortage of teams interested in trading for Garoppolo. The Buccaneers didn’t have a quarterback, the Broncos had struck out on Aaron Rodgers with the announcement he was returning to Green Bay, and the Colts had ended the short-lived Carson Wentz era, sending him to Washington. All of these teams felt like natural fits for Jimmy G, where he’d be good enough to at least push for the playoffs.

Brady returned, Russell Wilson was traded to Denver, and the cherry on top was Indianapolis working a deal for Matt Ryan. It’s left the Seahawks as really the only decent team left in the NFL without a starting-caliber quarterback, and they seem disinterested in trading for Garoppolo, just as the 49ers would likely be loathed to send him to a division rival.

Outside of perhaps the Panthers being the Panthers and deciding at the 11th hour that they need another quarterback, it doesn’t look like Garoppolo will head anywhere. The fall from grace has been precipitous, and honestly, it’s a little sad. It’s not like Jimmy is an amazing quarterback, but he’s a damn sight better than some of the players we’re going to see with starting jobs in 2022 like Sam Darnold, Marcus Mariota and Drew Lock.

Mayfield, on the other hand, is a really weird case. He’s a player that football coaches seem to love, but his teammates simply don’t like. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in particular have been extremely critical of Mayfield, while the lack of any support on social media from other players on the Browns has been extremely obvious. The trade for Deshaun Watson made Mayfield expendable, but even then there just don’t seem to be any interested parties. NFL insider Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network outlined how bleak it is.

“One NFL team that isn’t a fit for Mayfield is the Carolina Panthers. Mayfield has not expressed interest in being traded to the NFC South franchise, and the feeling is mutual, according to league sources.”

I get not wanting to go to Carolina, although beggars can’t be choosers — but it’s so profoundly difficult to be a quarterback the Panthers don’t like. Hell, you could be a ham sandwich in a helmet and Matt Rhule would take a bite, just to see if he likes it. So when the team doesn’t have interest in Mayfield, you know it’s bad.

The other factor playing a huge role is the 2023 NFL Draft. I’ve discussed before how deep the class is at quarterback, and organizations are well aware. As it stands as many as four quarterbacks could go in the Top 10, so there’s a quiet internal battle happening where bad teams who don’t currently have a QB are trying to be competitive, but they’re stopping short of actually trying to become good.

That’s why you’re seeing Atlanta settle for Mariota, Darnold starting again for Carolina, and the Saints re-signing Jameis Winston after all three teams fell over themselves to trade for Watson. The same commitment to mediocrity can be found in Pittsburgh, where Mitch Trubisky will start. They’re all happy to punt on the season and see if they can’t find a franchise quarterback in a year.

This is the smart move. It truly is the correct decision, rather than trying to be middling — but that also means two playoff quarterbacks are going to find themselves out of a job. The best bet for Garoppolo and Mayfield at this point might be to wait and see if a contender’s QB gets injured. If that happens they could be catapulted back into the spotlight, and onto an elite team. Outside of that, it’s hard to see either player finding a starting job.