Baker Mayfield’s goodbye means that Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson idea had better work
The Cleveland Browns have firmly inserted themselves in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, having met with the current Texans quarterback this week as part of a dog0and-pony show that includes several other perspective suitors. So, it’s clear the Browns are at least weighing the possibility of giving up multiple first-round picks for Watson, should Watson waive his no-trade clause to make that happen.
There’s one small hitch in the equation: The Browns already have a franchise quarterback in the person of one Baker Reagan Mayfield, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, and Cleveland’s quarterback ever since.
Awkward? Per a statement Mayfield posted on Tuesday, it would appear to be so.
With many uncertainties, here is where my head and heart is. pic.twitter.com/psipN96cmh
— Baker Mayfield (@bakermayfield) March 16, 2022
“The past 4 years have been nothing short of truly life changing since I heard my name called in the draft to go to Cleveland,” Mayfield wrote. “This is not a message with hidden meaning. This is strictly to thank the city of Cleveland for embracing my family and me. We have made many memories and shared growing in this process through all the ups and downs. I have no clue what happens next, which is the meaning behind the silence I have had during the duration of this process. I can only control what I can, which is trusting in God’s plan throughout this process.
“I have given this franchise everything I have. That is something I’ve always done at every stage, and at every level. And that will not change wherever I take my next snap. Whatever happens… I just want to say thank you to the fans who truly embraced who I am and the mentality that aligned so well with this city’s hard working people. Cleveland will always be a part of Emily and my story. And we will always be thankful for the impact it has had and will have in our lives.
“Baker Reagan Mayfield.’’
This does not sound like a “maybe we can work this out” message — it appears to be as much of a goodbye message to Cleveland’s fan base as it can be without coming right out and saying it.
If the Browns are able to pry Watson away from Houston, perhaps with Mayfield as part of the haul in return? Well, that’s a net positive on the field, though Watson’s obvious off-field issues are nowhere near done, and the NFL may well respond with a suspension of some sort.
If the Browns are not able to get this deal done, it’s obvious that they’ve alienated their most important player, and given the public nature of the message, one wonders just how much Mayfield knew about his team’s interest in Deshaun Watson before it became news.
Mayfield currently has one season left with the Browns — he’s in the fifth-year option year of his rookie deal, which nets him a guaranteed $18,858 million in the 2022 league year.
Watson is coming up on the third year of the contract extension he signed in 2020, and his cap hit for 2022 will be $40,4 million. He’ll have a $20 million salary and a $17 million roster bonus that become guaranteed when the new league year begins on Tuesday.
After taking on receiver Amari Cooper’s $40 million cap hit in a recent trade, the Browns have just under $17 million to work with.
Mayfield might not be the NFL’s best quarterback, but given the way this was handled by his team, you can understand his dismay. Just as Aaron Rodgers went off for a while when the Packers moved up in the 2020 draft to select Jordan Love in the first round, when you tell your quarterback that his time with your team is limited, you can’t expect him to be all in, in the same way he may have been before.
Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot recently reported that even if the Watson idea doesn’t work out for the Browns, Mayfield could be traded anyway, due the awkwardness inherent in “welcoming” him back.
Put plainly, the Browns had better hope they get the Deshaun Watson deal done. If they don’t, there’s going to be some serious franchise backpedaling (and backsliding) going on.