The 49ers have begun to separate themselves from their conjoined twin, the Cleveland Browns.
Sure, they still have identical 0-8 records, they’re still projected to pick first and second – for the second straight year – in the draft and they are the leading candidates to coach the two squads in the upcoming Senior Bowl, an honor traditionally bestowed on the worst teams in the league.
But earlier this week the 49ers found a potential quarterback of the future. The Browns just foundered.
After San Francisco traded for Jimmy Garoppolo, the Browns thought they had done the same with Bengals backup A.J. McCarron. The teams agreed to the deal at 3:55 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, five minutes before the trade deadline.
The Bengals hurried to file the necessary paperwork with the league office. The Browns? They never sent the required signatures and the deal never went through. McCarron remains in Cincinnati; the Browns remain with a quarterback group that has combined for a league-worst 56.1 passer rating. (The 49ers, with a 71 rating, are second worst. Twinsies!)
That the Patriots did business with the 49ers is noteworthy.
Of course, it largely was because San Francisco was willing to deal what will undoubtedly be a very high second-round pick and because the Patriots felt Brian Hoyer could serve as their backup.
The Browns, however, were set to part with a second- and a third-round pick for McCarron. Garoppolo is considered a better prospect than McCarron, and the Browns, loaded with draft picks, coveted Garoppolo in the offseason and made a trade offer for him at the time of the draft.
Why not deal with Cleveland, whose second-round pick may end up being even better than San Francisco’s?
There have been plenty of theories floated, including that Bill Belichick remains spiteful over his ouster as Cleveland’s head coach 17 years ago.
The most believable is that Belichick, who thinks highly of Garoppolo, didn’t want him facing the Patriots regularly and vying for playoff spots with New England in the AFC.
Belichick’s relationship with John Lynch also likely played a role.
He’s only been a general manager for nine months. But Lynch has been in or around the NFL for 24 years, including the 2008 offseason when he was a safety under Belichick with the Patriots. Did the relationship that began then help land Garoppolo?
“I don’t know,” Lynch said. “I think relationships are important. One great lesson I learned from Bill Belichick in a very short time there in New England is, speak for yourself. Don’t speak for other people. So I’m not going to try to get into his head. But I do know that relationships are important in this business. I’ve learned that thus far.”
Asked about the trade – when it came together, who called whom – Lynch was similarly deferential to Belichick and the Patriots and their hush-hush, circumspect style, saying the teams agreed not to divulge the details.
It’s notable, however, that Lynch has aspired to run his front office in the same air-tight fashion. And it’s also worth mentioning that while the Browns-Bengals deal went to the limit of – and ultimately over – the trade deadline, the 49ers and Patriots essentially consummated their arrangement with 24 hours to spare.
Said Lynch of the Patriots: “I think it’s refreshing to find people where you cannot belabor things. You bring something up and you come to a quick resolution and you don’t grind people out. That’s what we were able to do.”