CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from Jan. 17, 2021.
Even at certain points this season, there were questions regarding Baker Mayfield's long term future with the Cleveland Browns.
But now that the Browns' 2020 season is in the books, the question isn't whether Mayfield will be signing an extension but rather, what that extension will look like.
While Cleveland's 2020 campaign ended with a heartbreaking 22-17 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round on Sunday, the reality remains that the Browns just wrapped up their most successful season in more than a quarter-century. At 11-5, Cleveland turned in its best regular-season record since the 1994 season, which was also the last time the Browns won a playoff game before last weekend's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round.
While helping lead the Browns to their first postseason appearance since 2002 was an accomplishment in and of itself, Mayfield's play also dramatically improved throughout the second half of Cleveland's 2020 campaign. At season's end, he ranked 15th in traditional quarterback rating, 10th in Football Outsiders' QB rating and 11th in rbsdm.com's EPA + CPOE composite.
While where Mayfield ranks in the NFL's quarterback hierarchy is still up for debate, there's no longer any question as to whether the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft is Cleveland's quarterback of the future. With that in mind, let's take a look at what Mayfield's inevitable contract extension might look like with the information we currently have available.
Spotrac.com, the online sports contracts database, projects Mayfield's market value to be a four-year, $140,806,156 contract with an average annual salary of $35,201,539. That would make the Oklahoma product the third-highest paid player in the NFL, trailing fellow quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, who each signed contract extensions last offseason.
Spotrac arrived at this estimation based on a formula using four players it considers comparable to Mayfield based on age, contract status, and statistical production. It then ran a statistical analysis on Mayfield's production compared to the four other players to adjust its estimation, also factoring in Mayfield's age at signing, which would be 25 if he signs a new deal before April 14.
The four players chosen for Mayfield's analysis -- Mahomes, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz -- each signed their new deals within the past two years. While Cousins signed his second contract with the Minnesota Vikings last year, Mahomes, Goff and Wentz each signed new deals following their third seasons in the league, as Mayfield would be doing if he signs an extension this offseason.
While Spotrac's projection might run high -- Mahomes' contract is the largest in the NFL history -- it provides a solid estimate for the type of deal that Mayfield and the Browns might be looking at. And although Mayfield might not be a consensus top-10 quarterback, the reality remains that new quarterback contracts only tend to increase, as evidenced by each of the 16 largest new deals at the position having been signed in 2017 or later.
Another reason Mayfield likely won't become the third-highest paid quarterback in the NFL this offseason? Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills and Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens are also eligible for extensions.
Allen, who was superior statistically to Mayfield in each of the past two seasons, will face the Chiefs in this weekend's AFC Championship Game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Jackson, meanwhile, won the NFL's MVP award in 2019 and has led Baltimore to the postseason in each of his first three seasons in the league.
Spotrac's market value calculator projects Allen for a four-year, $162,389,360 ($40,597,340 average annual salary) contract and Jackson for a four-year, $158,629,808 ($39,657,452 average annual salary) deal -- both of which rank ahead of Mayfield's projection. With Dak Prescott projecting for a four-year, $148,253,724 ($37,063,431 average annual salary) as he enters free agency, it seems likely that even at his highest projection, Mayfield won't rank any higher than being the sixth-highest paid player at his position, which would put him in line with where Goff and Wentz ranked when they signed their extensions in 2019.
It's also worth noting that none of these projections factor in guaranteed money, which is typically a sticking point in NFL negotiations. While Goff and Wentz's deals rank seventh and ninth, respectively, among quarterbacks in total value, they also rank second and third at the position in practical guarantees.
Also, while Mayfield is eligible to sign an extension this offseason, that doesn't mean he has to. Although it's a foregone conclusion the Browns will pick up his fifth-year option for the 2022 season this offseason, either side could opt to continue to play out his current rookie contract in order to gain further leverage in future negotiations.
History, however, suggests that both sides will be inclined to work something out as early as possible -- especially coming off a successful season for both sides.
And if the projections are to be believed, Mayfield will soon be cashing in on a sizable payday as Cleveland locks up its quarterback of the present -- and the future.