Baker Mayfield is still available. Despite an abundance of rumors a deal was close, the Browns quarterback was not traded during the NFL Draft. Now, as teams progress and begin planning for the regular season we’re facing a scenario where the No. 1 pick from the 2019 NFL Draft will either be dealt for peanuts, or ultimately cut before training camp.
It’s left a lot of people wondering why. It wasn’t long ago that Mayfield was seen as the savior as Cleveland, the franchise quarterback who broke the drought and finally returned the Browns to prominence — now he’s being tossed out. We know this was simply a case of the team finding someone better, and taking the risk to trade for Deshaun Watson, but that doesn’t mean another QB-needy team wouldn’t benefit from Mayfield, right?
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. There are numerous levels to the Mayfield situation that extend far beyond on-field play that are impacting the willingness for teams to trade for him. It’s why, when my team the Panthers drafted Matt Corral in the third round after being linked to a trade for Baker, I said this.
I’ll be honest, I’m much happier with Matt Corral than trading anything for Baker Mayfield
— James Dator (@James_Dator) April 30, 2022
This, naturally, was met with a wide array of responses. A lot of people agreed it was the smart way to go, but a great deal of fans were upset at the suggestion that a third round rookie was preferable to a player who’s thrown for over 3,000 yards, and had a positive TD-to-INT ratio in each of his first four seasons. Let’s use this as the launching off point to explain why it’s better to invest in a mid-round quarterback than trade for Mayfield right now, and why so many QB-needy teams chose to go in this direction.
Baker took a huge step back in 2021
There is no question that last season was a huge disappointment for the Browns. Before 2021 began there was the assumption that, at the very least, Cleveland would be contending for the AFC North crown, likely duking it out with the Baltimore Ravens while the Steelers were in decline with an aging Ben Roethlisberger and the Bengals were amidst their Joe Burrow rebuild.
In the end Cleveland finished 8-9, third in the division, and while a bulk of their losses were by one score, there’s little question that better play from Mayfield would have been the difference. When the Browns lost to the Packers by two points Mayfield threw four interceptions. In the loss to Baltimore it was Mayfield who didn’t throw a single touchdown. His overall statistics at the end of the year were middling, but on the back of woefully inconsistent play that waxed and waned from the sublime (completing 90% of passes against the Texans in a win), to the embarrassing (needing 38 attempts to throw for 185 yards vs. the Steelers).
There is no question that Mayfield was a huge determining factor in the Browns’ struggles last year, and it was wise to cut bait and move on — even considering his large contract.
There are lingering character concerns
This is the big element that’s sparked chatter over the past several months. It’s unclear why players aren’t interested in playing with Mayfield, but there’s a clear sentiment that he’s reviled around the league.
The truth is: Players talk. They’re friendly off the field and especially those with collegiate bonds share notes on the regular. It was concerning when Odell Beckham Jr. was incensed with Mayfield on the field, and while Cleveland did its best to protect their QB in the wake of OBJ’s release, there’s no doubt that Beckham Jr. failed to do anything of note in Cleveland and flourished with the Rams — but this continued when Jarvis Landry took shots at Mayfield as well.
Compound all this with Panthers receiver Robbie Anderson being outspoken when rumors struck of Carolina trading for Mayfield, and we have quite the tapestry. For whatever reason, it’s clear players just don’t want to deal with the quarterback.
That contract …
This element isn’t Mayfield’s fault, but it’s a huge part of the reasons teams aren’t interested in trading — and the crux of my initial tweet about preferring Corral over Mayfield for the Panthers.
As it stands Mayfield is set to earn $18.85M this upcoming season, the final of his rookie contract. While that’s not horrible considering the inflation in quarterback salaries, it’s a major concern when compared to the 4-year, $4M deal Corral will make, for instance.
Teams are intimately aware of their future salary concerns, which leads us to this.
What’s the end game by signing Baker Mayfield?
If you’re a team, what do you gain by making this deal? Without question a team will get a boost initially if they need a quarterback, but what happens after that? Either a team has been lifted out of a good draft pick where they could find a long-term, far cheaper option — or, perish the thought, Baker thrives.
If he succeeds drastically in a new city in 2022 a team will be forced to make the difficult decision whether to extend Mayfield to a mammoth new contract and risk their cap future on him — without knowing whether his 2021 regression was a glitch, or the new normal. That’s too much to bear.
In the end we’re left with a good quarterback who can win for a team, but the salary and personality risks are just too great for a team to roll the dice on. It’s not a question of a grand conspiracy against the Browns, but rather just too many factors not matching up. The only way this goes now is to see Cleveland cut Mayfield and have a team sign him on the cheap to mitigate that risk. As disappointing as that might be for Browns fans, nobody is coming to save you from Baker and give a good return at this point.