In 2017, the Browns traded for Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler. The Browns got a second-round pick for their trouble, since they were taking a $16 million guaranteed salary away from Houston’s books.
Five years later, the Browns may need to apply similar creativity to the $18.8 million guaranteed salary owed to quarterback Baker Mayfield. Even then, it may not be enough to keep them from having to just cut him.
It recently was reported that the Browns don’t want a first-round pick for Mayfield. Hopefully, they don’t want a second or a third or a fourth, either. With few if any teams clamoring for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, the Browns may have to accept a low-round pick at best in order to dump his salary.
At some point, the Browns may actually have to attach a low-round pick in order to move on from Mayfield and most if not all of his contract. (The Browns may have to pay a large chunk of the $18.8 million to make it happen.)
Everyone knows the Browns are done with Mayfield. And the one place he wanted to go — the Colts — didn’t want him. Even if, say, the Seahawks or the Lions or the Falcon express interest, Mayfield could make it clear he’s not interested in playing for any of those teams.
He has a hammer in this situation. He’s making $18.8 million, no matter what. He could force the Browns to ultimately release him if he makes it clear that he ultimately will refuse to embrace a new team.
The Browns surely don’t want to do that. For starters, he’d make a beeline for Pittsburgh, which would pay him a one-year minimum salary of $1.035 million and stick the Browns with the $17.765 million balance. Instantly, he’d become the best option on the Steelers’ depth chart.
He’d be humbled. He’d be motivated. He’d be coachable by Mike Tomlin, who has a gift for keeping difficult personalities pointed in the right direction.
For the Browns, the challenge becomes finding a team that will trade for Mayfield, and a team to which Mayfield will gladly accept a trade. Even without a no-trade clause, teams won’t be inclined to trade for a quarterback who doesn’t want to be there.
Ultimately, the Browns may have no choice but to cut Mayfield. They may need to accept that it’s one of the collateral costs of trading for Deshaun Watson before resolving Mayfield’s status.
It could be a very costly collateral cost. In what will be Mayfield’s last game for the Browns, he witnessed the manner in which Pittsburgh embraced Ben Roethlisberger in what was his last game for the Steelers. With that defense and running game and coaching staff, Mayfield could eventually wrap a 10-year career in Pittsburgh with a similar sendoff.