The Browns finally ended the drama with Baker Mayfield this past week and traded him to the Panthers. Carolina sent back a conditional fifth-round pick in 2024, while Cleveland agreed to pay $10.5 million of Mayfield’s salary.
This was a trade the Browns had to make, even though they got a pittance in return, and they don’t know if they will have Deshaun Watson available this year. The situation with Mayfield became untenable as soon as they traded for Watson, and every day that Mayfield remained with the Browns created more dysfunction. Now the Browns make a clean break, three weeks before the start of training camp.
Mayfield won’t miss his former teammates for long. The NFL schedule makers, perhaps sensing this trade, scheduled the Browns-Panthers game for Week 1 in Carolina. Mayfield will also face his old AFC North foes this year with scheduled games against the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens.
Let’s take a closer look at how this move affects the Browns, Panthers and Mayfield:
▪ The Browns’ $70 million mess at quarterback is now just a $62 million mess. They’re spending $46 million on Watson, $10.5 million on Mayfield, and up to $6 million on Jacoby Brissett, and Brissett is the only one guaranteed to be on the roster for Week 1.
Credit to Browns general manager Andrew Berry for at least saving $8.3 million in cash and cap space with the trade. Mayfield, playing on a fifth-year option, had $18.858 million fully guaranteed, and now the Browns are only paying him $10.5 million. But they’re still burning money at quarterback, and they don’t know if their big investment in Watson is going to pay dividends this year. The best-case scenario is probably Watson getting suspended for six or eight games, with Brissett capable of filling in until then.
But if Watson is suspended for the 2022 season, the Browns will have spent $55 million on Watson and Mayfield, yet won’t have much of a quarterback situation. Brissett is a great spot starter and backup but probably not what the Browns want over a 17-game season. If this ends up being the case, the Browns may need to look at Jimmy Garoppolo. The Browns have nearly $50 million in cap space, the most in the league.
▪ Mayfield wanted out of Cleveland so badly that he took a $3.5 million pay cut, though he can earn it back in playing-time incentives. He’ll make $10.5 million from the Browns, $4.858 million from the Panthers, plus $3.5 million in incentives.
▪ This is a solid, no-risk trade for the Panthers, who have floundered at quarterback since getting rid of Cam Newton after the 2019 season. The cost of the trade — a mid-round pick two years from now — is basically the equivalent of a bag of footballs. And the financial commitment is something that billionaire owner David Tepper can find in his couch cushions. The Panthers did much better with this trade than they did last year with Sam Darnold, when they sent second- and fourth-round picks to the Jets, then guaranteed Darnold an $18.858 million salary for this year.
The Panthers finished 29th in points last year, but that was mostly because of their dreadful quarterback play. They have decent enough weapons in Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson. If Mayfield can regain his 2020 form, when he started all 16 games and threw 26 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions, the Panthers might be feisty in 2022.
▪ However, training camp might be a real competition between Mayfield and Darnold. The Panthers are paying Mayfield a quarter of what they’re paying Darnold — $4.858 million to $18.858 million. And Darnold has a significant head start with the Panthers’ playbook.
Then again, there’s a reason the Panthers traded for Mayfield. Darnold was so bad last year, with nine TD passes and 13 interceptions, that the Panthers signed Newton off the street to finish out the season.
It’s also noteworthy that the Panthers haven’t been able to trade Darnold, whose salary is so bloated that no one seems to want him. The Panthers could release Darnold but would be on the hook for his entire salary. So they may as well keep Darnold unless a team surprisingly decides it wants him.
▪ The Mayfield trade should shut the door on a return for Newton, who said he wants to keep playing. Newton joined the Panthers in Week 10 last season and went 0-5 as the starter, though he was thrown right into the fire without much prep work.
After 11 seasons, three Pro Bowls, an MVP, and a Super Bowl appearance, Newton’s career may be over at age 33.
▪ The trade should also give the Panthers plenty of time to develop and evaluate rookie quarterback Matt Corral, taken in the third round this year. With Mayfield and Darnold in the QB room, there shouldn’t be any pressure on coach Matt Rhule to play Corral early. Mayfield and Darnold will be off the books next year, and the Panthers could turn the team over to Corral if they like what they see. The Mayfield trade also suggests, though, that the Panthers aren’t quite sure what they have in Corral.
▪ Mayfield wanted out of Cleveland because he didn’t have many supporters left in the building, particularly among the coaches and front office. And now he goes to another team that may be skeptical of his skills.
Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo wasn’t working for an NFL team when Mayfield was drafted No. 1 overall in 2018, and he gave his opinion of that year’s quarterback draft class in an interview with the New York Post.
McAdoo ranked Mayfield the sixth-best QB in that class — McAdoo correctly picked Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson as his top two — and wasn’t impressed with Mayfield’s size (6 feet 1 inch) or playing style.
“If you’re short, you have to be able to make up for it some way, somehow, and personality doesn’t do that,” McAdoo said at the time. “I didn’t think he was a great athlete. This guy is kind of like a pocket quarterback that is short and with small hands. That’s what I worry about.”
Is it fair to call Mayfield a bust?
A couple of other notes on Baker Mayfield and the Browns:
▪ It may not be totally fair to call Mayfield a bust, since he led the Browns to the playoffs in 2020 and certainly had some positive moments in Cleveland.
But when a quarterback is picked No. 1 overall after winning the Heisman Trophy, and is dumped by his original team after just four seasons, it’s hard to call it anything but a major disappointment.
Since 1990, only two players picked No. 1 overall lasted fewer than four years with their original teams — Steve Emtman (1992) and JaMarcus Russell (2007), who made it just three seasons.
Jeff George (1990), Dan Wilkinson (1994), Keyshawn Johnson (1996), and Mayfield (2018) lasted only four years with their original teams. Even quarterbacks considered busts, such as Tim Couch (2000) and David Carr (2002), lasted five seasons with the teams that drafted them. So did Sam Bradford (2010), Jameis Winston (2015), and Jared Goff (2016).
▪ The list of starting quarterbacks that have cycled through the Browns since owner Jimmy Haslam’s first full season in 2013 is nauseating:
Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor, Case Keenum, and Nick Mullens.
That’s 15 quarterbacks, three of whom were first-round picks (Weeden, Manziel, and Mayfield).
No wonder the Browns went 47-91-1 from 2013-21, for a .328 win percentage that ranks higher than only the Jaguars. And no wonder Haslam spent through the moon to get Deshaun Watson.
Garoppolo last QB standing
Now that Baker Mayfield has found a new home, it leaves Jimmy Garoppolo as the only quarterback left on the market. The 49ers are trying to trade him, but a shoulder surgery and $25 million nonguaranteed salary have been standing in the way. Teams are well aware that if the 49ers don’t find a trade partner, they will have to release Garoppolo before his $25 million becomes fully guaranteed in Week 1.
Garoppolo, like Mayfield, may prefer being a free agent, as it could allow him to pick his situation. But he may have a tough time getting close to making $25 million this year. Absent a starting QB suffering an injury in training camp, not many teams are looking for a starting-caliber quarterback at this point in the offseason.
Here are Garoppolo’s best landing spots:
Browns: If Deshaun Watson is suspended for the season, Cleveland is Garoppolo’s best spot, with a roster ready to win and an offense similar to the one he ran in San Francisco.
Seahawks: Garoppolo is a clear upgrade over Geno Smith and Drew Lock, but the 49ers probably won’t want to trade Garoppolo to a division rival. But if Garoppolo is released, Seattle may offer the best path to getting on the field.
Falcons: Garoppolo is an upgrade to their top two quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder.
Texans: I’m not sure the Texans want to spend money on a quarterback when they already have a good, cheap option in Davis Mills. And I’m not sure Garoppolo wants to sign with a team that is still rebuilding. But it’s a starting job, and there’s a Patriots connection with GM Nick Caserio.
Steelers: Garoppolo is better than what the Steelers have, though they seem to want to give Mitchell Trubisky a chance this year before turning the team over to Kenny Pickett.
Saints: They appear set with Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton, but Garoppolo is better than both, and he had a decent connection with now-departed coach Sean Payton (via shared agent Don Yee).
Raiders: If Garoppolo can’t find a good path to get on the field, he may be better off signing a one-year deal with the Raiders to reunite with Josh McDaniels, serve as an emergency quarterback behind Derek Carr, and hit free agency again next year.
Giants: Garoppolo is an upgrade over Daniel Jones, but they appear to want to give the youngster one more shot.
Raiders have their own controversy
The Raiders made history this past week when they hired Sandra Douglass Morgan, an attorney and former chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, making her the first Black woman as an NFL team president. She joins the Commanders’ Jason Wright, the NFL’s first Black team president who was hired in 2020.
While the Commanders and owner Dan Snyder have taken the spotlight this offseason for their sexist work culture, the Raiders have quietly been embroiled in controversy. Former CEO Dan Ventrelle said he was fired by owner Mark Davis after raising issues about workplace misconduct, and a former HR employee filed a complaint against the team alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. Also like the Commanders, the Raiders are accused of sexualizing their female employees, and one employee called the team a “boys’ club and the mob wrapped in one,” per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It is unclear if the NFL is investigating the claims against the Raiders.
“I am not here to avoid or sidestep problems or concerns that need to be addressed,” Morgan told Raiders employees in a letter. “I believe in your core values of integrity, community, and commitment to excellence. I will expect you to embody those and to hold me accountable to doing the same.”
While the Raiders and Commanders should be commended for breaking barriers with Wright and Morgan, it likely only happened because Snyder and Davis are in big trouble and have their backs against the wall.
Snyder is tough to track down
As Snyder tries to avoid a subpoena on the investigation into his team by the US House and Oversight Committee, his attorney has reportedly informed the committee that Snyder would be willing to participate via videoconference. Per ESPN, Snyder’s attorney provided a list of dates that could work, but Snyder, who as of the last few weeks was floating on his yacht in the south of France, expects to be in Israel for most of July and into August.
Meanwhile, the Commanders are getting irked that people keep bringing up two decades worth of sexual harassment and assault that allegedly went on inside Washington’s headquarters. Last month, Snyder and his wife sent a letter to employees complaining that media “have portrayed our team in a harsh and negative manner that does not reflect who we are as an organization today.” Coach Ron Rivera, hired along with Wright in 2020 to help clean up Washington’s reputation, also said he gets “a little upset” when people keep mentioning all of the bad stuff that happened in Washington for more than 20 years.
“I get it. It’s a news item,” Rivera said. “We’re going forward. We’re changing things. We’re trying to do the best we can. I know some people don’t think it matters, but it does matter.”
Rivera obviously had nothing to do with the team’s abhorrent culture. But Snyder sure did. And until he faces true accountability, it’s going to keep dominating the conversation.
The Patriots still have one important matter to take care of, shedding former first-round pick N’Keal Harry, whose time in Foxborough is almost certainly up. Harry, the highest-drafted receiver in Bill Belichick’s 23 years with the Patriots (32nd overall pick in 2019), has a base salary of $1,872,048 this year, with $673,937 fully guaranteed. The Patriots would probably do a late-round pick swap with another team just to get rid of the contract. But a release is also possible, as the guaranteed money has offsets. The Patriots probably should make a decision before the start of training camp, or hold Harry out of camp to avoid an injury … The Patriots also need to dump Harry to pick up a little bit of salary-cap space. As of Friday morning, the Patriots had just $359,634 in cap space, per the NFL Players Association, the least in the NFL. The Ravens are next lowest at $3.27 million, league average is $13.2 million, and the Browns have the most at $41.45 million (which doesn’t account for the Mayfield trade). Unused cap space can be rolled over year to year, and the Patriots’ tight accounting isn’t giving them great flexibility … Soldier Field is already an architectural eyesore, with renovations making it look like a spaceship landed on top of a Roman coliseum. Now a Chicago mayoral committee will recommend putting a dome on the stadium to keep the Bears from leaving for new digs in the suburbs, per Sports Business Journal, with a cost of up to $1.5 billion. Seems like a long shot … Count Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans among those who doesn’t see Rob Gronkowski unretiring this time. “I’d actually be really excited if he came back, but I feel like he’s done,” Evans told KPRC in Houston. “He takes a pretty big beating. I’ve seen his body after some of them games and I understand why.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.