NFLTR Review: What Now For Baker Mayfield? 

Much to his chagrin, Baker Mayfield remains in Cleveland with no clear way out. This week in NFLTR Review:

  • A shrinking list of landing spots for Mayfield
  • How long can the Browns really hold out?
  • Plus nuggets on Cam Newton, Zach Wilson, Tom Brady

Around The Trade Block: Baker Mayfield

In one of the wildest NFL offseasons in recent memory, the saga between the Browns and QB Baker Mayfield still stands out, both for its length and its drama. There have been so many twists and turns that it’s to the point where I had to put a timeline together before looking ahead at what might be next. 

  • January 17, 2021 – The Browns are “all in” on Mayfield as their franchise quarterback after a rebound season in 2020 which culminated in their first playoff win in years, but not rushing for an extension. Before this, Mayfield had had a strong rookie season, then regressed in 2019. 2020 was his first season under HC Kevin Stefanski.
  • June 23, 2021 – Mayfield’s agent says they expect to get something done later in the summer. 
  • August 6, 2021 – Still no substantive talks between the two sides after Bills QB Josh Allen became the first of the 2018 QB class to sign an extension. The general tenor is that neither side is in a rush to lock in a deal, signaling perhaps some disagreement on value. 
  • September 9, 2021 – The Browns and Mayfield are both “cool with” starting the season without an extension, with the option to revisit it during the season. 
  • September/October, 2021 – Mayfield tears the labrum in his shoulder in Week 2, then worsens it with another dislocation in Week 6. He only misses one game though and plays through that plus other injuries. He and the Browns limp to a disappointing season. 
  • January 6-9, 2021 – Reports come out that Mayfield is displeased with Stefanski’s system and play-calling and will consider requesting a trade if things aren’t addressed. However, the two sides have their exit meeting and reportedly smooth things over, with neither side wanting a split for 2022 yet
  • March 3, 2021 – The Browns’ front office meets with Mayfield’s reps at the Combine to reinforce that he is the planned starter for 2022 and they don’t plan to add a veteran to make him compete for the starting job. Technically that was true. 
  • March 14 – Cleveland looks into the possibility of trading for QB Deshaun Watson from the Texans and it’s revealed they took exploratory trade calls on Mayfield. Things quickly escalate.
  • March 16 – Mayfield pens a vague goodbye letter to social media and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen drops his infamous “adult in the room” report on Mayfield, suggesting a breakup is imminent between the two sides regardless of if the Browns land Watson. 
  • March 17 – Mayfield officially requests a trade, Cleveland is in damage control mode with no assurances of landing Watson and says they won’t grant it right away. 
  • March 18 – The Seahawks reportedly reach out to the Browns about Mayfield and other reports indicate he prefers the Colts and has told the team as much. The Browns come from behind to close the trade for Watson. 
  • March 22 – The Colts pivot to Matt Ryan as the fallout from the Watson pursuit continues. Other reports indicate the Panthers aren’t interested, with some going so far as to say there’s “mutual disinterest” between the two sides. It becomes clear Mayfield’s $18.9 million fifth-year option is a major obstacle to a trade. 
  • April 13, 2021 – Mayfield hazards a guess that the Seahawks are the most likely landing spot but admits he doesn’t really know. 
  • April 16-18 – Longtime Browns beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot reports the Panthers have the “inside track” to trading for Mayfield. NFL insider Ian Rapoport also says in multiple reports he thinks Carolina is the most likely spot. A variety of local and national reporters dispute that, however, although Carolina’s interest is acknowledged. 
  • April 25-28 – The week of the draft, Rapoport changes tune and reports the Panthers won’t do the deal before the draft, if at all. In the days leading up to the first round, there’s a report that Carolina would prefer 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo and didn’t see Mayfield as a locker room fit. Another report mentions the Texans as a potential trade candidate for Mayfield after the draft. 
  • April 29 – Day 2 of the draft, and the Panthers and Browns engage in trade talks for Mayfield. Ultimately no deal is reached, with Mayfield’s salary rumored to be a sticking point, and Carolina trades a future third to move up and take Matt Corral. Later reporting indicates the most the Browns were willing to eat was $3.5 million. 
  • May – More details come out about how Mayfield’s relationships with Stefanski and teammates behind the scenes were fractured in 2021. We haven’t even touched on the situation with WR Odell Beckham’s father posting a clip of Mayfield overthrowing or not throwing to his son that ultimately led to Beckham’s release. However, the Browns have no intent at this time to simply release Mayfield. 

And here we are. Neither Mayfield nor the Browns want him on the team but there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to the trade Cleveland is holding out for. Before the draft, it was easy to point to the Panthers and Seahawks as potential destinations for Mayfield because neither team had done much to address their quarterback situation. Carolina had Darnold and Seattle traded for Drew Lock, both of whom have consistently underwhelmed in previous starting opportunities. 

If either team was a big believer in Mayfield, though, they have had ample opportunity to get a deal done. Instead, Carolina went for a rookie. If they add another quarterback, it seems more likely to be someone in the cheap veteran placeholder mold. That’s probably not Mayfield. 

Seattle continues to insist they’re happy with Lock competing with Geno Smith and they just might mean it. Pete Carroll said last week they don’t plan on trading for another quarterback at all. Take Pete at his word at your own peril, but teams can’t lie with their actions, and Seattle foregoing this quarterback class entirely speaks volumes.

It seems like every other team has already made plans for 2022 at the quarterback position. The Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round. The Commanders, Colts, Broncos, Falcons and Saints have either traded for or signed starters. The Texans could have folded Mayfield into the Watson deal but elected to stick with Davis Mills. The Lions and Giants have starters in Jared Goff and Daniel Jones who most would consider vulnerable but those teams have either affirmed the incumbents or made other contingencies. 

And what’s becoming increasingly apparent is that Mayfield isn’t seen as the type of quarterback worth changing plans for. Consider this quote from another AFC executive back in March to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.

“I do think he’s a starting-caliber player, no doubt,” the executive said. “But this ‘franchise guy’ thing, if the guy wasn’t the first pick, if he went in the second or third round, we’d be looking at him so differently. He has that attached to his name, and it’s not reality; he can be one of 32, but have to comfortable with the idea that he’s gonna be somewhere maybe 16 to 22. Physically, one-through-14, you’re talking about guys that are bigger, are better athletes, bigger arms. He’s got a good arm, he’s accurate, but he’s just not one of those top guys. So what are you acquiring then? The 20th best quarterback? You have to be comfortable with that.

Where does Cleveland go from here?

For the Browns, and really for the 49ers as well who find themselves in a similar spot with a quarterback they’ve already acquired a replacement for, the best-case scenario is an injury to another starter flips the leverage enough to be able to unload Mayfield without eating all of his salary. That’s not without complications, which we’ll unpack in a moment, but that’s the gambit the team is making right now. 

Could the Browns keep Mayfield on the roster this season? They’d certainly like people to believe so. As the timeline makes clear, there have been a lot of attempts to build leverage in the situation from all different sides. However, any suggestion of Mayfield as insurance for a Watson suspension is bunk. Actions speak louder than words, and the Browns made it a priority to sign QB Jacoby Brissett to a $4.5 million deal — third among current backup quarterbacks. He’s the Watson insurance, not Mayfield. 

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Browns hold onto Mayfield for a long, long time, however. They could take a page out of the Texans’ playbook with the Watson situation and have Mayfield stay away from the team until a resolution is reached. He’s due his money no matter what and doesn’t want to play in Cleveland either, so that makes sense on some level for him. 

Mayfield almost assuredly will resent being “held hostage” by the Browns (brace yourself for the #FreeBaker campaign) but his reputation is already on somewhat shaky ground. Agitating for his release might bite him in the butt down the line. Even if he’s a model citizen, though, there’s no getting around this being a distraction the longer the Browns hold on. And that’s for a team that already has no shortage of “distractions” to deal with. 

Then again, the Browns have shown through their actions this offseason they have a pretty high tolerance for what they’ll put up with if they think it makes them a better team. Cleveland has rejected the narrative that they have no leverage with Mayfield and have refused to eat the bulk of his salary to ship him out so far. They think he has value, and even if they don’t trade him this year, they can point to a potential compensatory pick when he leaves in free agency in 2023 as a reason not to cut him, as long as they’re willing to sit with the awkwardness. 

Not only do the Browns need an injury to avoid that scenario, but they need an injury to the right player. There’s a series of questions each team asks itself when it loses a quarterback to injury. If it’s a short-term injury, you hold your nose and hope the backup can keep things afloat. If it’s serious, you start evaluating who can jump into your system and pick it up quickly. Some teams already have that guy in house. If Aaron Rodgers goes down, it’d be a surprise to see anyone besides Jordan Love starting. 

There are six teams that make sense on some level as a fit for Mayfield if their current starters are no longer an option: 

Cardinals 

Should Kyler Murray be hurt for an extended period of time, Arizona would need someone better than Colt McCoy, who has shown he can win a couple of spot starts but shouldn’t be counted on for long periods of time. Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury coached Mayfield in college, although Mayfield did transfer from Texas Tech due to what he called a “miscommunication” with Kingsbury’s staff. Still, he’d have some familiarity with the offense and was teammates at Oklahoma with Murray and new WR Marquise Brown. Familiarity goes a long way in these situations. 

In this scenario, Mayfield would get the chance to rehab his value before hitting free agency in 2023. Murray is established as a starter so there should be no friction or awkwardness about bringing him in. Arizona would be incentivized to give up a pick to try and save its season, which would grease the wheels on a potential deal. 

Lions

The Lions are in Year 2 of a multi-year rebuild, so it’s not like they’ll be scrambling to keep a contender afloat should they lose Goff for an extended period of time. Perhaps they’re content to let Tim Boyle and David Blough lead them to the No. 1 pick but my hunch is that everyone in that building prefers to win. An injury to Goff could be an opportunity to look at Mayfield. 

It’s also worth noting that former Browns GM John Dorsey who believed in Mayfield enough to make him the No. 1 overall pick is a senior executive with the Lions right now. Should Mayfield be free to sign wherever at any point in the next year, that makes Detroit a team to watch. 

Patriots

Ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft, there were rumors that the Patriots had a high grade on Mayfield and had done some extra work on him in the eventuality he was in range of their pick. They of course were picking near the end of the round as usual and Mayfield made it nowhere near them. He’s much more attainable now, though, and the Patriots’ current backup is either Brian Hoyer or fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe

That said, if the Patriots lose Mac Jones for the season it might make more sense to go after Garoppolo given he has more knowledge in what is said to be a complicated system, though that was with Josh McDaniels and not whoever’s calling plays now (Joe Judge?). Any team that loses a starter in 2022 is going to be weighing Mayfield vs Garoppolo, and Mayfield has the advantage of being younger and cheaper, even if he comes with more baggage. 

Texans

Even though Houston turned down a chance to trade for Mayfield, they’ve still been mentioned on the periphery as a landing spot. Texans GM Nick Caserio was the top front office exec in New England when they had that high grade on Mayfield, so you can connect the dots there. In this situation, Mills wouldn’t necessarily have to get hurt to lose his job. If he makes it clear he’s not the long-term answer during camp and the preseason, it wouldn’t hurt the Texans to take a flier on Mayfield. 

Raiders

Rounding out the Patriots connections is McDaniels, the new head coach in Las Vegas. Obviously the plan is for Derek Carr to be the starter for a few more seasons and they just traded for a familiar face in Jarrett Stidham. That’s not going to cut it in the AFC West though if Carr goes down. Garoppolo would be in play in this situation as well and might actually make more sense given he’s got a longer track record in big-game situations. Mayfield can’t be completely counted out, though. 

Buccaneers

Had Tom Brady not curtailed his retirement, this might have been interesting as a potential landing spot for Mayfield. Former HC Bruce Arians was trying his darndest to sell the idea of Blaine Gabbert as a starter but they didn’t even re-sign him until April 7. Brady’s been the model of durability, but if bad luck were to strike, I don’t buy that they’d entrust what is supposed to be a Super Bowl team to Gabbert or Kyle Trask

Garoppolo has the big-game experience, but Mayfield offers the allure of a potential clean transition into a post-Brady life if things go well. Neither are awesome scheme fits for Arians’ offense that OC Byron Leftwich will continue running but Mayfield has the better arm of the two. 

Other

I don’t think the Colts are an option to trade for Mayfield even if Ryan goes down. Watch out for Nick Foles ending up there and reuniting with Frank Reich. The Broncos don’t have a good backup for Russell Wilson but there’s not much scheme familiarity there. There is with Garoppolo, though you have to hit a few degrees of Kevin Bacon to get there (Broncos HC Nathaniel Hackett was the coordinator for Packers HC Matt LaFleur who worked as a QB coach alongside 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan for six years). 

This Week In Football

  • After weeks and weeks, the Giants finally bit the bullet and cut veteran CB James Bradberry after failing to find a trade partner. Bradberry can still play but it looks like New York over-estimated the market he’d have due to his $13.4 million base salary. He won’t make anything near that on his next deal in all likelihood but he should have a strong market on a one-year deal with some teams looking to contend. Some that have come up repeatedly include the Raiders, Eagles, Chiefs and Commanders. 
  • The relative quality of the free agents still available seems much higher this year than other years, including at wide receiver. Veterans like Jarvis Landry, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham are still out there, with other recognizable names like Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton and Cole Beasley as well. So it makes sense that the Packers would be looking to dip back into this pool, potentially with someone like Jones or Beckham, given they could still use help at the position. 
  • Are the Panthers content with just Darnold and Corral at quarterback this year? It certainly lessens the pressure and should allow them to wait out Mayfield and Garoppolo if the price comes way down later this year. Apparently the door still isn’t completely shut on another year with Cam Newton. Panthers GM Scott Fitterer acknowledged they’ve still had some contact with Newton and are open to adding “competition.” But he added they wanted to assess things during the spring. Newton has previously said he wants a situation where he can win and/or has a good crack at the starting job, so I’m not so sure Carolina fits the bill even if I think he’d be better with more time to learn the playbook rather than being dropped in midstream. 
  • Other notable free agent news: 
    • The Texans continued making additions to their defense, signing 33-year-old DE Jerry Hughes to a two-year, $10 million deal. That’s a really strong commitment this time of year, although only $4.5 million is guaranteed. Houston did something similar with a two-year deal for 34-year-old DE Mario Addison, which gives them an interesting group of edge rushers. There really is little downside to the second year for either player, as it’s not cheap and basically acts as a team option with no strings attached depending on how this season goes. 
    • Veteran DT Larry Ogunjobi has had a rough offseason after having his three-year, $40+ million deal with the Bears revoked due to an issue with his foot that was flagged in his entry physical. The first reported interest in him since came this week when he had a two-day visit with the Jets. They run an attacking defense that could be a really good fit for him to try and prove it again on a one-year deal with eyes on free agency in 2023. 
    • It’s a hard life being a veteran running back on the free agent market, as the NFL tends to be brutally ageist at the position. Sony Michel is a former first-round pick who was just the leading rusher for the Super Bowl champion Rams. Mike Davis has had two solid years for the Panthers and Falcons as an all-around back. Michel had to sign a one-year deal to compete for a spot with the Dolphins who already signed two other runners this offseason, however, while Davis was cut by the Falcons after they drafted a rookie in the fifth and landed a third-string, veteran salary benefit spot with the Ravens
  • Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy is hoping the arrival of Wilson finally helps get his career off the ground. Things got a little bit worse for him this week though with the news he had been arrested on a charge of criminal tampering with a domestic violence enhancer. It’s a misdemeanor charge and at this point doesn’t seem to be anything that would rise to the level of a suspension. It’s not a good start for Jeudy, though. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

It’s interesting to go back and look at our piece from the middle of last season looking at the Browns and Mayfield. They really nailed their best-case scenario, at least in terms of an on-field replacement, by landing a blockbuster replacement. Though I don’t think we’re talking enough about how Watson will look given he played his last football game in 2020…

If we were to update the Mayfield stats table in that piece with his final finishes in ANY/A, PFF grade and EPA/CPOE composite from 2021, it would be:

Year ANY/A PFF EPA/CPOE
2018 6.77 (14th) 83.2 (11th) .089 (19th)
2019 5.29 (27th) 74.4 (17th) .049 (26th)
2020 6.96 (12th) 85.7 (8th) .139 (10th)
2021* 5.41 (26th) 63.6 (23rd) .048 (30th)

*initially 7th, 19th and 19th entering Week 10

Things really got worse down the stretch…

The Jets have had a good offseason. But this is a good illustration of how it might not matter because of how far behind their quarterback started his career…

Some tangible stats to back it up. There really are more rookie receivers coming in ready to play than ever…

Bad news if you’re rooting for the Packers: MVS is the most prolific rookie receiver in the Rodgers era. Good news: the GM compared second-round WR Christian Watson to MVS+…

Clear evidence the pandemic eligibility awarded by the NCAA had an impact on the NFL ranks…

The Patriots draft got a lot of grief for how many perceived reaches they made, with fans and a share of analysts saying you have to trust Bill Belichick that it will work out. Look at this list, though, and tell me what about New England’s recent draft history (outside of 2021) gives you confidence they were right about Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, etc, and the rest of the league was wrong? 

$37.5 million a year for Brady to call games and be an “ambassador” for FOX is more money — by far — than he ever signed for as a player…

Looking for the latest NFL Insider News & Rumors?

Be sure to follow NFL Trade Rumors on TWITTER and FACEBOOK for breaking NFL News and Rumors for all 32 teams!

Leave a Reply