With that said, Mayfield went unselected in another way: no teams, not even the quarterback-needy Carolina Panthers, acquired the Oklahoma product either before or during the three-day draft.
Instead, Mayfield is still on the Browns’ active roster despite requesting a trade in March. Although the fifth-year quarterback is entering the final year of his deal, his guaranteed $18.9 million salary has created a significant roadblock for teams willing to take a chance on the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner.
Although the Browns haven’t publicly committed to simply rolling with the punches and keeping Mayfield around as the third-string quarterback next season, perhaps the 27-year-old needs to consider another approach: opting out of the 2022 campaign.
Players opting out of an entire season over a trade request or a contract situation doesn’t typically happen. Then-Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell did so in 2018 when he refused to play on the franchise tag. Rather than earn $14.5 million ahead of free agency, Bell held out the entire season and inked a four-year, $52 million contract with the Jets in March 2019.
Could Mayfield try a similar tactic? Well, he could, although it’d likely work against him in more ways than one. First off, the Browns don’t have to pay Mayfield if he doesn’t show up. Although new Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson didn’t play a single snap in 2021 amid his ongoing legal issues, the Houston Texans nonetheless paid him $10 million because he reported to the team in July.
If Mayfield doesn’t care about earning nearly $20 million next season, then he must strongly consider simply sitting out the season. Teams clearly don’t want to take his entire salary, and the Browns don’t appear willing to eat the entire $18.9 million.
Yes, a professional athlete could theoretically pass up nearly $20 million amid a pandemic and inflation. We should all be so lucky.
If there’s no guarantee of a trade, why should Mayfield bother reporting to the Browns when training camp starts in July? At best, he’d be the second-string quarterback behind Watson, and the team’s decision to sign Jacoby Brissett earlier this offseason signaled the Browns are as done with Mayfield as he is with them.
Some will argue that Mayfield owes it to the Browns to show up, which is not entirely incorrect. But he’s already requested a trade, and the Browns are clearly interested in seeing if anyone wants the four-year starter. Why make things any more awkward?
The keyword to all of this is “consider.” Unfortunately for Mayfield, the smartest play truly is to show up in July, grin and bear it, and get paid to do nothing. Nick Foles did it with the Chicago Bears last season, albeit at a much cheaper cost; the Super Bowl 52 MVP earned $4 million despite only playing a single game in 2021. We, too, would like to receive $4 million for 74 total snaps.
Or, the Browns could choose to eat enough money to get Mayfield off their hands. The longer this takes, the higher the chance of drama and tension throughout the summer and fall. If a team with Super Bowl aspirations truly wants that burden, we wish them the best of luck.
Then again, such a decision would describe the Browns’ organizational mentality far better than “Factory of Sadness” ever could.