A new week dawns in the 2022 NFL offseason and Baker Mayfield remains property of the Cleveland Browns.
And that’s both surprising and awkward because the Browns don’t want Mayfield. After all, they’ve got Deshaun Watson now.
And Mayfield doesn’t want the Browns. After all, he’d like to start proving himself somewhere else.
Both sides have been feeding mean factoids and opinions about the other to the media for a while now. So this is an ugly divorce in every way except for the formal court papers.
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Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield warms up before an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis.
(AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
And yet Baker Mayfield is still a Cleveland Brown.
How could this happen?
The Browns want to trade Mayfield but as recently as last week, according to a league source, were holding firm on “their asking price.” So the Browns don’t want their former No. 1 overall selection on their team anymore but want to get a certain value to trade him because they believe he would be valuable to someone.
This is hardball. Because basically the Browns have so far declined to come significantly off their asking price for Mayfield even though every other team in the league knows Mayfield cannot be on the Browns in 2022 and that, barring a trade, the Browns would have to cut Mayfield.
“The Browns have been acting like they have leverage,” the source who declined to specify Cleveland’s asking price told OutKick, “and right now they really don’t. Maybe down the road if someone gets injured and a team has a major void, but not right now.”
The Browns have also made it clear, per the source, that they’re not in any way eager to pay a portion of Mayfield’s fully guaranteed $18.8 million salary so as to make a trade more palatable.
So any team exploring a Mayfield trade, until recently anyway, has been told they have to take on his salary — something no team so far is willing to do.
And why have teams been unwilling to do this?
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield works out prior to an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore.
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Because, once again, the Browns have to get rid of Mayfield. And if no one trades for him, they’ll have to cut him, at which point the full amount of that $18.8 million guaranteed money remains on Cleveland’s books in the form of dead money while the team signing Mayfield could negotiate a new contract — likely at a much, much lower salary.
So from the Cleveland perspective we now start to see why no one has rushed to trade for Mayfield.
Then there’s the market perspective:
The league is one week past the draft and teams are attending to their offseason conditioning programs and minicamps before hitting their mandatory minicamps in June. And most teams now have a quarterback situation they can at least live with.
Even teams like the Seattle Seahawks, whose starting quarterback seems to be Drew Lock, have been talking as if they’re not interested in upgrading to Mayfield.
“We’re always competing,” coach Pete Carroll said on Sports Radio 93.3 KJR-FM in Seattle last week when talking about a generic quarterback and not naming Mayfield so as to not tamper with a Browns player.
“I’m not saying anything you didn’t think I was going to say, but fortunately that’s always been the way we’ve operated, and it fits again. So we’re looking. I don’t see us making a trade for anybody at all. I don’t see that happening.”
Yes, that can change. It can change today.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland.
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
But because the situation would have to change on multiple fronts, this isn’t something that seems like an easy fix.
There is, by the way, also the issue of Mayfield himself. He’s open to going anywhere he can start or anywhere he can compete to start, per a source familiar with his thinking.
But it is unclear if he’d be willing to go be a backup somewhere and merely rehabilitate his career in much the same way former high pick Mitchell Trubisky did last year — going from Chicago to Buffalo as a backup to Josh Allen.
Such a move would require Mayfield to subjugate his ego. And it would almost definitely have to happen with a team that has an undisputed starting quarterback situation where one bad week or even a bad month is not going to bring calls for Mayfield to play.
So there are a lot of moving parts and some obstacles to remove.
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And Baker Mayfield will remain with the Browns until the obstacles go away.