Of the three best quarterbacks from the five-man first-round class of 2018 (Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Mayfield), one has not yet played at the same level as the other two. Jackson won the league MVP award in 2019. Last year, Allen made a jump to MVP-caliber play.
Mayfield showed steady growth in 2020 after a disappointing 2019 season, but he has yet to put together a wire-to-wire MVP-style season. The question (one that people in the league are openly asking) becomes whether that’s enough to give Mayfield a massive, market-value-or-close-to-it contract now.
In May, Browns G.M. Andrew Berry declined to characterize the contracts given by the Rams and Eagles to Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively, after three seasons in the NFL as cautionary tales. While Wentz’s regression in the second year after signing his second contract potentially falls into the “sh-t happens” folder, the Rams clearly shouldn’t have paid Goff what they paid him when they paid him — and the extra first-round pick they tucked into the Matthew Stafford trade to get the Lions to assume the Goff deal confirms it.
Our position on quarterback second contracts remains simple. If the team knows he’s the long-term answer at the position, pay him as soon as he becomes eligible for that deal or, if that realization comes after the final game of the player’s third regular season (that’s when he becomes eligible for a second deal), the moment the light bulb flickers on.
For the Browns, that’s the real question. Do they believe Mayfield is the guy? Are they ready to give Mayfield the kind of cap commitment that will complicate the effort to put a team around him? Is he the kind of quarterback whose mere presence elevates the rest of the team, or is he a quarterback who simply benefits from a team of all-stars that the Browns continued to build around him?
That’s not for me, you, or anyone else not employed by the Browns to answer. Only the Browns (and/or any homeless guys from whom owner Jimmy Haslam still takes advice) know whether Mayfield is the guy, or whether maybe there’s another guy with whom the Browns would do more.
In making that assessment, one key ingredient becomes critical: What Mayfield wants. Does he want $30 million per year? Is it $35 million annually? Or maybe $40 million? Does he want top-of-market money ($45 million) without the Mahomesian 12-year commitment?
Mayfield lacks no confidence. That’s critical to succeeding in the NFL. His extreme confidence could cause him to want more from the Browns than they’re willing to pay, however. That could result in the Browns waiting another year.
There’s risk to both sides in waiting. If Mayfield becomes an MVP candidate this year, the price goes way up next year. If Mayfield regresses this year, the price goes down or, if it doesn’t, the Browns may start looking at their alternatives.
With so many great young quarterbacks constantly emerging from college football, teams no longer must cling to a quarterback who has yet to become a clear top-10 guy. And (as the Rams and Eagles learned) paying a not-top-10 guy like a top-10 guy leads nowhere good.