CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns have a "fluid situation" on their hands, or at least that’s how they’re choosing to refer to the fact that quarterback Baker Mayfield is still awkwardly on the roster. With the NFL Draft coming and going and Mayfield still on the team, it’s uncertain when this situation may be solved.
“It’s a fluid situation,” general manager Andrew Berry said Wednesday on 850 ESPN Cleveland. “We’ll deal with it day by day.”
“Yeah, of course,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said when asked during a radio interview on 850 ESPN Cleveland if he was confident the Mayfield situation would be settled. “I think everybody would love a resolution, but these things are fluid. I think Andrew [Berry] has talked about it. We’ll continue to do what’s best, ultimately, for the team at all times. This is a unique situation, and I think everybody understands that.”
Now that it’s understood that the Browns are in a particularly fluid situation, it’s fair to question where things go from here. Not completing a trade with the Carolina Panthers during the NFL Draft – reports say that talks between the two teams “intensified” before the Panthers traded into the third round to select quarterback Matt Corral – prolongs this process far past the point either side would like it. Mayfield has wanted a trade since the day before the Browns traded for new quarterback Deshaun Watson, and the Browns have wanted to deal him since the moment Watson lifted his no trade clause.
What complicates so much of this is that Mayfield is due nearly $19 million in fully guaranteed money for this season. While the Browns declined to give him a contract extension following a successful 2020 season, they did pick up his fifth-year option, which he will likely play on this year, just not in Cleveland.
Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published on March 25, 2022.
The options for where the Browns can trade Mayfield are seemingly slim. Carolina may not be ruled out as of yet, but drafting Corral certainly makes it less likely. The Seattle Seahawks are another team with a need at the quarterback position after trading Russell Wilson this offseason to Denver, but there hasn’t been much noise about any interest in Mayfield. Other than those two, it becomes difficult to locate a place where Mayfield would be wanted or needed -- at least with an opportunity to start.
The Panthers are still an option, despite being a less-likely possibility than they were a week ago. Drafting Corral gives them an option that they may be excited about in the future, but the reality of the situation is that if Mayfield were to be traded there, he would instantly be the team’s best quarterback. For all of Mayfield’s faults, there’s no doubt he’s better than incumbent starter Sam Darnold, and the chances of a third-round rookie being better than him right away are pretty slim. For the Panthers, it all comes down to money and how Mayfield’s $18.8 million salary for this season would be split up.
Seattle makes sense, but there’s been little noise to make it seem as if the Seahawks are all that interested in Mayfield. When trading Wilson to the Broncos this offseason, Seattle received quarterback Drew Lock in return to be their presumed starter at quarterback. Lock certainly isn’t very good and Mayfield would qualify as an upgrade over him, but if Seattle’s goals are to draft its franchise quarterback at the top of the draft a year from now, trying to see how much they can get out of Mayfield may not make sense.
Now, if the Browns cannot find a trade partner for Mayfield, things become really interesting. It’s difficult to envision the Browns ever bringing him back into the team’s facility in Berea for training camp, let alone using a roster spot on him throughout the season. There’s little doubt that the desired outcome for Mayfield would be for the Browns to release him, while paying his full salary, making him free to sign with any team he so desires in the NFL. In fact, Mayfield’s best chance to be a starting quarterback in the NFL again may actually be to be a backup for the 2022 season.
Mayfield’s ideal route for 2022 has to be similar to the one that current Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky took. Trubisky was once upon a time a high selection in the draft, going No. 2 overall to the Chicago Bears in 2017 before the team decided to allow him to walk in free agency – the big difference is that the Bears declined his fifth-year option. Last season, Trubisky signed with the Buffalo Bills as Josh Allen’s backup. The move helped to put Trubisky in a better place in the NFL as his image was rehabbed. Now, he has the chance to compete for the starting quarterback job with the Steelers. It’s hard for Mayfield to ask for much more than that at this point. The biggest difference – aside from the fifth-year option scenario – is that Trubisky wasn’t publicly controversial and confrontational the way that Mayfield has been. Teams could trust that Trubisky wasn’t going to ever cause a scene or spill company secrets. The same certainly cannot be said for Mayfield right now.
Maybe the Browns are able to work out a trade with Carolina or Seattle. Maybe a mystery team appears with a desire to employ Mayfield. Maybe he ends up just being released and allowed to choose his next destination. All of those things, as the Browns would say, are fluid.
What isn’t fluid, is that despite being on the roster, Mayfield is still a man without a team.