Josh Allen has his. Lamar Jackson hopefully will get his in the upcoming bye week. Baker Mayfield may not get one at all.
The shoulder injury suffered by the Browns quarterback when making a tackle in Week Two has on one level overshadowed but on a deeper level underscored the fact that he has yet to agree to terms on a second contract with the team that made him the first overall pick in the 2018 draft.
As the clock ticks toward Mayfield’s option year in 2022 and then, after that, a possible franchise tag, it’s fair to begin to wonder whether the two sides will work out acceptable terms on a multi-year extension.
And it’s not just a question of whether the Browns are willing to extend Mayfield. The real question is whether the Browns will make Mayfield an offer he won’t refuse. At one point not that long ago, each quarterback who was due for a new deal became the new highest-paid player in league history. From Andrew Luck to Derek Carr to Matthew Stafford to Jimmy Garoppolo to Kirk Cousins to Matt Ryan, each guy kept pushing the bar a little higher.
That’s likely changing. With Patrick Mahomes at $45 million per year in new money and with Dak Prescott at $40 million (but actually with a much better deal) and Josh Allen splitting the difference at $43 million annually, the chances of Mayfield coming in at $45.1 million, for example, are slim.
It makes sense, frankly, for a second tier of quarterback salaries to emerge, with a player who is good enough to remain with his team but not good enough to break the bank getting something in the range of $33 million to $35 million per year in new money. That make seem like a lot. However, with the looming cap explosion fueled by new TV deals and stacks of gambling cash, that soon becomes a significant value.
If that’s what the Browns want to do but not what Mayfield wants to accept, the team has the franchise tag available for 2023 and 2024. Mayfield could go year to year and become a free agent, like Cousins did in 2018. Once the tag is applied, however, the analysis changes, with contract value driven not by the notion that Mayfield should be at the top of Tier Two but by the payout under the tag in 2023, 2024 (20-percent bump), and 2025 (44-percent spike).
The risk for the Browns of paying Mayfield a market-value deal is obvious. Although G.M. Andrew Berry tried to say earlier this year that the Jared Goff and Carson Wentz contracts aren’t cautionary tales, the Browns need to be careful; for 2022, caveat emptor could be an appropriate T-shirt slogan.
Then there’s the very real question of whether the Browns could upgrade at the position. What if, for example, Russell Wilson (who was born in Ohio) looks at the various rosters after the 2021 season and decides that the revised list of teams to which he’d accept a trade is now headlined by the Browns? They have the defense, the running game, the offensive line, the pass catchers. Although Mayfield is good enough, the Browns have to ask whether he’s great enough to deliver a Super Bowl win. Wilson clearly is.
These are all fair issues to ponder given Mayfield’s performance to date. Surprisingly good in 2018, he regressed in 2019. Last year, he came on strong in the second half of the season. This year, he’s struggling either because of the injury or because he has regressed again.
The NFL currently has a glut of great quarterbacks, with more coming from college every year. Would Mayfield currently be in the top half of the league? As passer rating goes, Mayfield lands at No. 16. He’s 19th in yards, 25th in touchdown passes.
The Browns, frankly, will become an attractive team for veteran quarterbacks hoping to engineer a Tom Brady-style stacked deck. By next year, Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Deshaun Watson (if he’s not traded by November 2) could become interested in joining a loaded roster with an offensive specialist coaching the team.
These are all factors the Browns must consider before deciding not whether to keep Mayfield but whether to pay Mayfield anything close to what he’ll want. At a certain point, his financial expectations justify looking for an upgrade. And while Mayfield has had his moments, it would be foolish for the Browns not to regard plenty of other quarterbacks as a potential upgrade.