Baker Mayfield Trade Update: The Browns May Have to Make a Disappointing Compromise This Spring

When the 2021 NFL season began, the Cleveland Browns likely believed Baker Mayfield would be their franchise quarterback for years to come, especially after leading the long-suffering franchise to the AFC Divisional Round.

That should be the last time anyone has any legitimate hopes about the Browns.

Three months after Mayfield and the Browns ended the season out of the playoffs, no one is quite sure what lies ahead for the Oklahoma product. Cleveland is moving forward with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, and Mayfield understandably wants a fresh start with another franchise.

As of publication, the Browns hadn’t traded Mayfield yet, and the organization might need to make a disappointing compromise if they intend on setting their former starting quarterback free.

The Cleveland Browns might need to eat money to trade Baker Mayfield ahead of the 2022 season

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2022.
Will the Cleveland Browns trade quarterback Baker Mayfield? | Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even before the Browns emerged as a legitimate suitor for Watson’s services, it didn’t sound unrealistic to believe the organization would consider trading Mayfield. The 26-year-old certainly didn’t help his case last season when he and his wife, Emily, each criticized fans for booing the team last season.

To say there is a lack of traction on the Mayfield trade front would be like suggesting Tom Brady is good at football.

The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported on Wednesday, April 6, that a front-runner has not emerged in any Mayfield trade talks in large part because of his contract. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner is guaranteed an $18.8 million salary in 2022 because the Browns picked up his fifth-year option ahead of last season.

Mayfield, who turns 27 on April 14, is currently recovering from left shoulder surgery. Howe reported the Browns might need to eat money if they plan on trading the fifth-year quarterback in the coming months.

Howe also wrote that a Mayfield trade might not happen until after the upcoming draft. Considering the Browns begin offseason workouts on April 19, it’d be awkward to have the veteran quarterback around as he awaits a trade that may never come.

Even if the Browns eat some of Mayfield’s money, don’t be surprised if there’s a lack of traction on the market

To be clear, there’s a reason why teams aren’t lining up to acquire Mayfield. He completed 60.5% of his passes for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 14 games last season as he fought through numerous injuries, including the labrum ailment he suffered in Week 2.

Although $18.8 million might not sound like much for a starting quarterback, it certainly is plenty for a backup. Consider that the Seattle Seahawks could realistically enter the 2022 campaign with Drew Lock as the starting quarterback. Lock, who started in parts of three years with the Denver Broncos, is only slated to make $1.45 million next season. If Seattle acquired Mayfield and he didn’t win the starting job, he’d be earning nearly $20 million next year to ride the bench.

Let’s suggest, solely for argument’s sake, that the Browns decide to eat $8 million. How many teams would really want to spend $10 million on a backup quarterback? Most backups usually make as much as $4 million per year, and that’s usually reserved for the likes of Colt McCoy and Chad Henne, the older and established veterans who can come in and play competently in an emergency. A quick glance at NFL depth charts often show quarterbacks, young and old alike, earning less than $2 million to sit on the bench or hold a clipboard.

So what does that mean for Mayfield? Unlike Henne and McCoy, he’s at least been a full-time starting quarterback recently. He’s an effective game-manager who is still only 26 and, at times, appeared destined to follow in Tom Brady’s footsteps as a young quarterback who didn’t need to depend solely on gaudy passing numbers to emerge victorious on Sunday afternoons.

Unfortunately for Mayfield, there’s nothing really he can do to escape Cleveland unless he sat out the 2022 season. If he did so, and we must make it clear there have been no credible reports about him considering such a drastic move, he’d at least earn the money he’s owed. But how would that impact his future? Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was fresh off an All-Pro season when he refused to play on the franchise tag in 2018 and never suited up for a game that year.

Conversely, Mayfield isn’t even close to a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback right now. It’s disappointing to think he went from potentially on the cusp of a second contract in Cleveland to potentially being stuck in Ohio because no teams are willing to absorb his contract.

Life is cruel in the NFL, especially when the Factory of Sadness is involved. Not even Mayfield, the top pick in 2018, was able to change that fact.

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