Presumably Baker Mayfield and his wife, Emily Wilkinson, are still “at home” inside FirstEnergy Stadium in downtown Cleveland, enjoying great insurance while dishing out stadium nachos at Halloween, gossiping with neighbors and pawning off Browns equipment at yard sales.
In other words, he hasn’t been traded, released or filmed a new television commercial.
Mayfield is done in Cleveland though, with the Browns dealing five draft picks – three of them first-rounders – and agreeing to a $ 230 million guaranteed contract to bring in Deshaun Watson and 22 sexual assault allegations.
It has been an astounding fall for Mayfield. Cleveland drafted him No. 1 overall in 2018. By the end of his rookie season, with the Browns winning four of six, he could hardly have been more popular locally (hence the advertising career). As recently as a year ago, he led the Browns to their first playoff victory since 1994 and while questions lingered on his ceiling di lui, he was the toast of the town.
Maybe he was never truly great, but he was good enough. And he was Cleveland’s good enough.
Now he has no future there, and no obvious one almost anywhere else.
It’s not just the Browns who have shunned him. The phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook for his services di lui even though Cleveland needs to unload him (Mayfield has also asked for a trade). The Browns signed Jacoby Brissett to serve as Watson’s back-up and fill-in if the NFL, as expected, suspends Watson.
Houston certainly could have gotten Mayfield as part of the Watson deal, but it’s content to go with Davis Mills.
Washington made a deal with Indianapolis for Carson Wentz. Indianapolis made one with Atlanta for Matt Ryan. Atlanta decided to sign Marcus Mariota. New Orleans preferred to re-sign Jameis Winston.
Carolina has missed out on every possible deal, but appears more interested in drafting Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett.
Seattle is still a possibility, having traded Russell Wilson, but it got Drew Lock in exchange, so even there it’s not like the starting job is just going to be handed out.
Besides, at this point, the Seahawks – and everyone else – have the Browns over a barrel.
Mayfield would probably fetch only a mid-to-late round draft pick. Ryan went for a third-rounder, after all. But the return compensation isn’t the issue for the Browns, although they could use every pick they can get after the Watson deal.
It’s more important to get as much of Mayfield’s $ 18.8 million in salary-cap space off the books. If he doesn’t play this season, that’s dead money.
No team is going to take all of that on. A year ago, Carolina traded Teddy Bridgewater to Denver, but still had to pay $ 7 million of his contract (and $ 17 million in cap space). The Broncos took on just $ 4.4 million in cap space, per Spotrac.com.
None of this is helpful for Cleveland and has to be a blow to the ego of Mayfield, who after a terrible season may have to go somewhere and compete to be a starter.
It has a chance to be a very good thing, however, for whatever team actually takes him. No, Mayfield isn’t an elite player and his on-field play di lui didn’t merit those national advertising campaigns.
And, yes, he was bad last year, completing just 60.4 percent of his passes and throwing just 17 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. There were also 43 sacks and a dozen batted down passes. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 39th best quarterback in a 32-team league. He ranked 26th in yards per attempt at 7.2.
You can understand the cool market for him. Still, this is a guy with some potential. He’s going to turn only 27 in April. He was injured last year and even shut things down prior to Week 17 to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder.
He has led his team to the playoffs and actually won a game. In 2020, he threw 30 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, playoffs included. PFF ranked him the ninth-best passer in the league.
Putting him in the mix of Mariota, Winston and Sam Darnold, and Mayfield certainly isn’t that bad, especially at a bargain rate that he might fetch. He’s a mystery. A likely highly motivated mystery at that.
One year after that glorious playoff victory and a very solid, if not spectacular season, it has all come apart for Baker Mayfield. No more Cleveland. No more commercials (presumably). No one willing to hand over the starting spot (at least not yet).
He’s got to find a team and a chance, and then prove that he’s the guy the Browns and the NFL once thought he could be, not what they think he has become.