Lack of QBs keeps drafted Baker Mayfield’s, Jimmy Garoppolo’s futures cloudy

The first round of the NFL Draft was supposed to set the stage for the final stretch of the quarterback movement this offseason.

That didn’t happen.

Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback off the board Thursday night, going to the Steelers with the 20th pick. It was just the second time in the last 21 years that a single quarterback was selected in the draft’s opening round – confirming that much of the NFL had regard to this prospect class.

Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder and Sam Howell highlight the list of quarterbacks who still remain on the board. Willis was widely expected to be taken in the first round, while it was speculated Corral and Ridder also had slight chances to sneak into the mix Thursday night.

And so it appears Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo will continue to hold on.

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The Panthers and Seahawks have been in the mix for the veteran quarterback market throughout the offseason, and the Texans will be exploring their options with Garoppolo and Mayfield, according to a source. Of course, all this continues to hinge on the rest of the draft.

The Panthers may have telegraphed their intentions before the draft. Owner David Tepper preached patience Wednesday and harped on the rebuilding of the roster. There were obvious clues the Panthers didn’t reach for a quarterback with the sixth pick – not when they needed to fix their offensive line – and they took advantage of tackle Ikem Ekwonu’s fortuitous slide.

The Panthers should now be players for Mayfield. The Browns are poised to provide a portion of Mayfield’s $ 18.86 million salary, with the percentage of the contractual retainer relative to the trade compensation. That’ll be important with the Panthers also paying quarterback Sam Darnold’s $ 18.86 million fifth-year option.

There’s another important factor here, too. The Panthers don’t have another pick until the fourth round, so they won’t have a chance at trading Willis, Corral, Ridder or Howell without a 2023 selection. Since Willis is the most upside, teams will be jockeying for a move up position for him on Friday night, meaning the Panthers will probably need to offer next year’s first-round pick to make such a deal.


Malik Willis could be taken early in round two and change the complex’s quarterback needs in the league. (Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)

So the Panthers might be debating two avenues here. They could trade a 2023 first-rounder for Willis or maybe even Corral. Or they could wait and offer much less capital for Mayfield or Garoppolo, then remain in the mix for a 2023 quarterback class that is deemed superior to the current group.

The Panthers have been aggressive on the quarterback front. They called about Russell Wilson getting down and shifting toward Darnold last year. They were in the mix for Deshaun Watson before he was sent to the Browns. They’re trying to curb the uncertainty in search of an answer.

Are they certain about Willis or Corral? If yes, a trade makes sense. If not, they could try to focus on possibly shifting to Mayfield or Garoppolo before a season with Bryce Young or another 2023 draft prospect. Mayfield and Garoppolo may not turn the Panthers into contenders but they’d be an upgrade, and they’d also give head coach Matt Rhule a better opportunity to prove himself after a couple of rocky seasons.

Then there are the Seahawks, who have also been viewed as a solid landing spot for Mayfield. They’re equipped with the 40th and 41st picks, so they have a prime spot to draft a quarterback, whether they move up or stand pat.

The Seahawks, who took tackle Charles Cross at no. 9, are in a unique spot of their own because they’ve got veteran quarterbacks Drew Lock and Geno Smith on the roster. Would they view Mayfield or Garoppolo as distinct upgrades over Lock or Smith? Or are they actually comfortable with Lock or Smith as a starter for a season while waiting for Willis, Corral, Ridder or Howell on the bench to have a learning ability?

Plus, the 49ers might not even consider trading Garoppolo to an NFC West rival, so it might just come down to Mayfield. The 27-year-old quarterback has the kind of energy that head coach Pete Carroll would covet, and the No. 1 pick from the 2018 draft could accelerate the Seattle rebuild if he finds success with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. And in the event the Mayfield rebounds with the Seahawks, it could help the team entice receiver DK Metcalf to stay ahead of his rookie contract.

Don’t rule out the Texans, though. They are indeed encouraged by quarterback Davis Mills’ rookie season and will be comfortable with him as their starter again in 2022, according to a source. And they had no intention of selecting a quarterback Thursday with a pair of picks in the top half of the first round.

However, the Texans hadn’t ruled out the possibility of jumping up for Willis or Pickett if they fell to the bottom of the opening round. The Texans, sitting at no. 37, could still get their guy Friday night.

It’s conceivable the Buccaneers (No. 33), Vikings (No. 34), Titans (No. 35) or Giants (No. 36) jump on a quarterback as their current starters, and they also have to consider They could get leapfrogged by the Seahawks or another team. The patient approach may backfire if they truly like Willis or another quarterback.

Otherwise, the Texans want to make sure they are competitive with a tough schedule on the horizon in 2022. The AFC South has improved, and they’ve also drawn the daunting AFC West slate, along with the NFC East, Browns, Dolphins and Bears. As much as the Texans like Mills, are they giving themselves the best chance to win when Garoppolo and Mayfield are options?

Texans general manager Nick Caserio worked with the Patriots when they drafted Garoppolo in the second round in 2014, so they have history. Garoppolo would also be an easy stopgap if they wanted a smaller option in 2023, including Mills. But so far, the 49ers’ asking price for Garoppolo has been too high, according to a source.

Mayfield would be another consideration because of the asking price. The Texans had no interest in Mayfield as part of the Watson trade, but things have changed, according to sources. Notably, at the time of the Watson trade, the Browns wanted to see if another team would take Mayfield’s entire contract. Now that it becomes apparent the Browns must consume a portion of Mayfield’s contract, the Texans may consider that type of deal.

There may have been a resolution to Thursday’s draft results. In an extreme scenario, the Browns didn’t want to reach a point where they had to release Mayfield and then find him signing with the Steelers. That was seen as a long shot, but the Steelers’ selection of Pickett as a pairing with Mitch Trubisky probably ruled out that scenario.

The 49ers remain a wild card in the QB sweepstakes. While they are motivated to move Garoppolo, they are reluctant to trade him for a minimal return until they are sure Trey Lance is ready to start in 2022. Lance must prove that throughout the offseason workout program, and the 49ers are ready to go. Carry Garoppolo into training camp if necessary. They know they’ve got a roster that can contend for an NFC Championship and don’t want to move Garoppolo until they’re sure of Lance’s readiness.

And finally, Garoppolo is still recovering from right shoulder surgery, while Mayfield is rehabbing left shoulder surgery. Garoppolo is expected to begin throwing by training camp. Mayfield may be sooner than that.

There is still so much at play, including the rest of the draft this weekend. The answers that were expected Thursday night may have taken quite a bit longer to unfold.

(Top photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images)

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