Baker Mayfield is running out of time to settle into playing quarterback for a new team in 2022 while the Browns keep thinking about the money.
Cleveland, locked into a fully guaranteed contract with pricey franchise QB replacement Deshaun Watson, has lacked a sense of urgency in moving Mayfield since free agency began in March. Meanwhile, Mayfield should have little desire to remain and practice with the team when training camp opens in late July.
The Browns added journeyman Jacoby Brissett with the thought he would fill in as the starter should Watson be suspended for several games this season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. A demoted Mayfield isn’t a backup contingency plan, so what’s holding up the team from trading him to a QB-needy team?
MORE: Deshaun Watson faces 23rd lawsuit after HBO ‘Real Sports’ interview
Here’s an update to the stalemate in Cleveland with the latest news and rumors:
How much will it cost the Browns to not trade Baker Mayfield?
The Browns are on the hook for $18.858 million whether they keep or release Mayfield. Mayfield staying on the roster creates a salary-cap hit of that amount. Mayfield being cut will make that dead money with zero cap relief.
Trading Mayfield is the Browns’ only avenue to recoup that money vs. the cap for 2022. With the contract for Watson backloaded with big cap numbers, he costs the Browns around $10 million. That means Mayfield, not Watson or All-Pro edge rusher Myles Garrett, still carries the highest cap number on the team.
What compensation can the Browns expect for Baker Mayfield now?
Early in the offseason when Mayfield was first on the market, the Browns were hoping some team would offer up a first-round pick in return to help offset the three first-rounders they gave up through 2024 to acquire Watson from the Texans.
But as the waves calmed in free agency and the dust settled after the 2022 draft, fewer outside teams are less desperate at quarterback in the short term. Those teams also know the Browns are handcuffed with Mayfield’s cap situation and realize they will get more desperate to clear his salary as it gets closer to the season.
MORE: Baker Mayfield absent from OTAs
Carson Wentz (Colts to Commanders) and Matt Ryan (Falcons to Colts) were the last two 2021 starting QBs to be dealt back in March. While Indianapolis netted two additional third-rounders for Wentz, it gave up only a third-rounder for Ryan.
That’s the absolute ceiling for Mayfield, given Wentz was a recent MVP runner-up and Ryan was a one-time MVP. It’s more likely Cleveland will need to settle for a fourth-round pick as the very best the team can get for Mayfield now.
How can the Browns still afford to keep Baker Mayfield on the roster?
The Browns had more than $32 million available under the cap before June 1, the most space in the NFL. They just added another $9.5 million by designating tight end Austin Hooper as a June 1 cut.
Then putting the Browns’ cap number at around $42 million under, Mayfield’s $18.8 million hit represents less than 45 percent of that.
In the unlikely event the Browns carry Mayfield’s contract through 2022 ahead of becoming a free agent next year, they would follow the sizable cap hit with only a low compensatory draft pick to show for it in 2023.
Per Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, the Browns don’t plan to be desperate enough to cut Mayfield just to accelerate turning the page with Watson.
Are teams still expecting the Browns to pick up some of Baker Mayfield’s salary?
The Panthers did their best to make the Browns cover up to $14 million of Mayfield’s 2022 pay, per a recent Charlotte Observer report. Carolina had cooled on the veteran QB market after adding rookie third-rounder Matt Corral in the draft to compete with Sam Darnold. But it was looking for a cheap way of getting a second veteran option from the same 2018 first-round raft class.
For the Browns, still needing to eat 77 percent of Mayfield’s salary for the year wasn’t worth it vs. getting the full $18.8 million in cap relief without dead money. Something closer to a 50-50 split where the Browns are paying less than $10 million for Mayfield to play another team would make sense for at least recovering the 2022 cap hit on Watson.
Carolina officials, with Darnold and Corral as options going into training camp, didn’t feel compelled to help Cleveland too much knowing it had zero leverage in the situation. The Panthers, before the draft, made a push for paying only $6 million of Mayfield’s salary as part of a trade, which wasn’t agreeable to the Browns then. The Panthers’ offer didn’t get better.
Although those two snubbed attempts should push the Panthers out of the mix for good, Mayfield should remain on the radar for at least three other teams.
What team(s) should still be interested in trading for Baker Mayfield?
The Seahawks have the unquestioned worst QB battle in the league brewing ahead of camp between Drew Lock, the former Bronco acquired in the Russell Wilson trade, and former Jet Geno Smith, who shakily started three games for an injured Wilson last season.
Knowing Jimmy Garoppolo is not an option for Seattle given he still plays for NFC West arch-rival San Francisco, Mayfield is the only viable path to an upgrade and a certain starter over either Lock or Smith.
The Seahawks have been torn on how much they like Mayfield in their mix, because under coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, they are looking to go back to using the power running game to set up the downfield passing game. Wilson was a vertical-throwing virtuoso. Mayfield is at his best as a short-to-intermediate rhythm passer playing off the run.
MORE: Best fits for Baker Mayfield
Lock has struggled with his accuracy and efficiency but appealed to the Seahawks in exchange for Wilson because of their desired big arm. But if Lock is struggling to separate from the faded backup Smith and continues his disappointing play from Denver, Seattle would need competency over luxury at the game’s most important position. The bottom line is still getting the ball in the hands of wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to make big plays.
The Seahawks want real QB options, and between Lock, Smith and third-stringer Jacob Eason, there’s not enough for 2022. For that reason, Mayfield to Seattle still makes sense, once the compensation and price are lowered to an acceptable level.
The Lions (Jared Goff) and Saints (Jameis Winston) seem set on their own one-time No. 1 overall pick starters for new offensive play-callers in 2022, but they can’t be ruled out as longer shots for Mayfield’s services, especially if his value is significantly lowered. The Seahawks can make Mayfield work more easily with some Browns help given they are $13 million under the cap, while the Lions and Saints each sit at around $10 million under.
When might the Browns actually trade Baker Mayfield?
The Browns could have made Mayfield a more desirable commodity, or at least make it seem that way, to get the level of draft pick they wanted with all of his salary being pushed to his new team. Instead, a 1-2 punch of mishandling Mayfield while getting the deal done for Watson has backed them into a corner.
That leaves Cleveland stuck in a staring contest with the few remaining Mayfield suitors. The Browns won’t be able to win that because they already have shown eyes only for Watson and the desperation to move on from Mayfield.
For the sake of the team’s psyche, they cannot afford to still have Mayfield on the roster as a non-participant at training camp, given there’s already a big QB shadow cast with Watson’s pending discipline.
Mayfield will be a former Brown at some point in 2022, but the trade won’t happen before training camp and the drama may stretch into the preseason.