CLEVELAND — Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry said that the team expects Baker Mayfield to return as its starting quarterback in 2022.
But when asked about the possibility of exploring other options at the position, Berry stated: "My job is to assemble the best team possible and make sure that we are in the position to compete consistently for the division, to be in the playoffs and ultimately win a championship. That is something that we will strive to do every year.”
While the Browns have remained publicly committed to Mayfield, this offseason's quarterback market could provide potential alternatives that Cleveland could consider to be upgrades. Furthermore, it's not a stretch to think that the Browns could move on from Mayfield's backup, Case Keenum, which would create the need to add another quarterback.
So while Cleveland is currently committed to Mayfield, that won't necessarily preclude the Browns from being active at quarterback this offseason. With that in mind, let's take a look at which signal-callers could become available in the weeks and months ahead.
Tier 1: Elite quarterbacks
After an offseason's worth of drama, enjoyed what will likely be a second consecutive MVP season, although it's worth noting that his gripe with the Green Bay Packers was never about the team's on-field success. With one season left on his contract, there are plenty of options on the table for Rodgers, including the possibility he could request a trade.
Should the 38-year-old signal-caller do that, it would be tough to imagine that the Browns won't be one of the teams interested in securing his services for what would likely be an astronomical price. Whether Rodgers would be willing to spend what will likely be the final chapter of his career in Cleveland, however, is another story.
Like Rodgers, Russell Wilson is a future Hall of Fame quarterback who appears to be nearing a crossroads with the only NFL team he's ever played for. Should he become available, it won't be a matter of whether the Browns are interested, but rather whether Cleveland would be one of his preferred destinations.
Twenty-six-year-old three-time Pro Bowl quarterbacks don't often become available, but Deshaun Watson's desire for a trade coupled with potential legal issues have left his future with the Houston Texans in doubt.
Make no mistake, Watson is facing serious accusations, including several claims of sexual misconduct, which are still being investigated by the FBI, Houston Police Department, as well as the NFL. But if the former Clemson star is ultimately cleared, it seems likely he'll be traded by the Texans, with the Browns standing out as one of his likeliest suitors.
Tier 2: Proven starters
Despite the franchise facing a season's worth of off-field distractions, Derek Carr managed to help lead the Las Vegas Raiders to an unlikely postseason appearance. Still, uncertainty in the Raiders' front office and coaching staff -- as well as the possibility of Rodgers, Wilson and/or Watson becoming available -- could result in Las Vegas making its all-time leading passer available.
If that's the case, there will likely be a sizable market for Carr, which one would expect Cleveland to likely be a part of.
Over the course of the past couple of days, the Minnesota Vikings have fired their general manager and head coach, which could also mean that Kirk Cousins' time with the franchise is nearing its end. If that's the case, Cousins' experience playing under now-Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski could prove appealing should the Browns be willing to take on his $35 million salary for 2022.
Two years after helping lead them to a Super Bowl appearance, Jimmy Garoppolo has the San Francisco 49ers back in the playoffs. But with the 49ers having traded up to select Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in last year's NFL Draft, it seems likely that the 30-year-old signal-caller is currently playing his final season in San Francisco.
While his injury history is a concern, Garoppolo's success in Kyle Shanahan's offense could prove appealing to Stefanski and the Browns. With one year and $24.2 million remaining on his contract, Garoappolo could prove to be one of the more affordable quarterbacks on this year's market.
Since entering the league in 2008, Matt Ryan has been one of the league's most consistent starters, but has failed to lead the Atlanta Falcons to the postseason since 2017. At this point, a split seems likely, with 2022 marking the first year the Falcons can get out of his contract for a reasonable price.
Should the 2016 MVP become available, his market would likely consist of teams that believe they're capable of winning a Super Bowl as early as next season. To that end, Cleveland would have to determine how a 36-year-old quarterback affects its current contention window.
Tier 3: Intriguing options
While it remains to be seen whether Carr will become available, another Raiders quarterback is scheduled to hit the free-agent market. After spending the first five years of his career with the Tennesee Titans, Marcus Mariota has spent the last two seasons in Las Vegas, receiving occasional playing time as a dual-threat option.
Should the Browns sign Mariota, he may not necessarily replace Mayfield, but could either compete with him or play alongside him, as he did with Carr. The No. 2 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, Mariota possesses high upside and at 28-years-old, could still have a lot of football ahead of him.
Like Mariota, Mitchell Trubisky is a former No. 2 pick who is currently serving in a backup role. But with his one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills set to expire, the Mentor native could be looking for a new home this offseason.
A return to Northeast Ohio could provide Trubisky with a more likely path to playing time than his current situation serving as Josh Allen's backup in Buffalo. For all of his shortcomings with the Chicago Bears, the North Carolina product did help lead them to playoff appearances in two of his four seasons with his former team.
In 14 starts this past season, Teddy Bridgewater led the Denver Broncos to a 7-7 record before missing the final three games due to a concussion. While his ceiling may not be as high as some of the other players on this list, the 29-year-old has experience playing under Stefanski and could be brought in to either backup Mayfield or as part of a new tandem with a younger quarterback behind him.
Gardner Minshew II
After starting 20 games in two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Gardner Minshew II has spent this past season as the Philadelphia Eagles' backup and has played well in limited action (including two starts). With just one year remaining on his contract, the 25-year-old could be both an attractive and affordable trade target should the Browns look to upgrade their backup quarterback situation.
Taylor Heincke has performed admirably as a starter, but it's not a stretch to think that the Washington Football Team could look to upgrade at the position this offseason. If that's the case, the 28-year-old could prove to be an attractive backup option for the Browns, whether he's behind Mayfield or another starter.
2022 draft class
While the 2022 NFL Draft isn't considered to be a strong one at the quarterback position, that won't stop Cleveland from doing its due diligence. As far as potential starters are concerned, Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett and Ole Miss' Matt Corrall stand out as potential fits for the Browns, who possess the No. 13 overall pick in this year's draft.
But while a rookie quarterback likely wouldn't make sense for Cleveland in its current contention window, don't be surprised if the Browns opt to add a developmental player at the position, independent of what happens with Mayfield.