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Breaking down the Cleveland Browns' Baker Mayfield-Deshaun Watson debate

With Deshaun Watson having demanded a trade, many have debated the possibility of the Cleveland Browns trading Baker Mayfield for the star quarterback.

CLEVELAND — The second tweet that Baker Mayfield sent following the most successful Cleveland Browns season in 26 years didn't have anything to do with his team's 2020 campaign or recently ended run to the AFC divisional round. Rather, it was a response to a column on DawgPoundDaily.com suggesting that the Browns explore replacing Mayfield with Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson.

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"Some of y'all 'browns' are funny," Mayfield posted, retweeting the article along with an "OK" emoji on Jan. 28 -- 11 days after Cleveland's season-ending loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round.

While Mayfield's response was celebrated by many Browns fans, it also amplified the conversation regarding a hypothetical trade, with ESPN's "Get Up" and "First Take" debating the topic the following day.

How did this conversation start and is there any actual merit to it? Let's take a look.

The origins

Watson's reported trade demand from the Texans sent shockwaves through the NFL, as no quarterback of his caliber and at his age has ever made such a request. At just 25-years-old, Watson has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in football, earning three Pro Bowl selections in his first four seasons in the NFL.

Considering the unprecedented nature of Watson's trade demand, the market for the NFL's 2020 passing leader figured to be vast. Less than an hour before kickoff between the Browns and Chiefs in the divisional round, ESPN's Dan Orlovsky posted a tweet stating that all but six teams in the NFL should at least inquire about what it would take to acquire Watson.

Cleveland was not one of the six teams to make Orlovsky's list.

The following week, similar speculation -- or at least thought exercises on the subject -- followed. The Athletic published an article asking what would happen if the Texans called the Browns about a potential Watson-for-Mayfield swap. ESPN's Bill Barnwell included an offer from Cleveland in his ranking of 17 potential trade offers for Watson.

It's important to note that Cleveland is hardly the only team that has been speculated about regarding Watson and that most of the buzz has centered on other teams, like the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The Browns, however, are the only team whose current quarterback has publicly responded to the noise, making it a natural topic for the morning debate shows of the world at a time in the NFL calendar where speculation rules all.

The debate itself

The other reason why the Mayfield vs. Watson hypothetical has gained some steam? It's a fairly interesting debate.

After leading Cleveland to its first playoff appearance since 2002 and first postseason victory since the 1994 season, Mayfield appears to have ended the Browns' three-decade search for a franchise quarterback. What's more, is that for the first time since entering the NFL in 2018, Mayfield will enter 2021 with the same head coach he had the season before and an offense that's set to return all five of its starting offensive linemen and primary playmakers.

Given the newfound continuity in Berea, it's not crazy to think that the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft could be in line to make another sizable leap in his fourth season in the league. So what's to debate?

For as impressive as Mayfield was in 2020, the reality remains that Watson is a far more established quarterback who's actually five months younger than Mayfield is, despite having been in the NFL for one year longer. Despite Houston's lack of weapons and coaching instability -- the Texans fired head coach Bill O'Brien four games into the 2020 season -- Watson ranked sixth in the NFL in rbdsm.com's EPA+CPOE and fifth in Football Outsiders' DVOA, with Mayfield ranking 10th and 17th, respectively, in the same categories.

Adding another layer to the discussion is the reality that a straight Mayfield-for-Watson swap wouldn't be enough for the Browns to acquire Watson. Instead, Cleveland would likely have to send Houston multiple draft picks -- including perhaps multiple first-round selections -- which would limit its ability to continue to build around its new franchise quarterback once acquiring him.

As for how realistic such a transaction would be, we'll get to that in a minute. But it's not difficult to see why the topic has become a sports talk radio host's dream.

How realistic is it?

For all of the energy spent on debating the merits of a Mayfield-for-Watson deal on sports talk radio, social media and even in this story alone, the fact of the matter is, it simply isn't a realistic scenario.

In his projection of potential offers, ESPN's Barnwell ranked the Browns' hypothetical offer of Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick 14th out of 17 offers. If an offer that steep isn't enough to acquire Watson, it's hard to imagine Cleveland conjuring an offer that would.

Plus, the Browns front office and coaching staff seems to genuinely like Mayfield, who is eligible to sign a long-term extension with Cleveland as soon as this offseason. The likeliest outcome to all of this: Watson lands elsewhere, like Miami or New York, while Mayfield returns for his fourth season as the Browns' starting quarterback -- with the only change in his status likely to be a new long-term contract.

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