The Browns are done with Baker Mayfield. And Baker Mayfield is done with the Browns. Unless they aren’t.
With few viable options for a trade and a fully-guaranteed salary of $18.8 million, the Browns apparently plan to squat on Mayfield, indefinitely. Like the 49ers, the Browns intend to wait if necessary on a freak injury that, while not unprecedented (Teddy Bridgewater, 2016), is highly unlikely.
On the scale of events that possibly could happen, it’s far more likely that, instead of a starting quarterback with some other team being lost to injury for a full year, the Browns will lose their starting quarterback for a full year, due to a suspension. At a time when the NFL stubbornly keeps its cards close to the vest on off-field issues, there continues to be a loose sense that Watson will be suspended for four or six games, eight at the most.
What if the loose sense is wrong? What if the NFL, influenced by 22 claims of sexual misconduct during massages and the two-year banishment imposed on Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer by Major League Baseball, the Commissioner imposes a one-year suspension on Watson?
There’s another important factor at play here. Other owners are pissed about the five-year, $230 million guaranteed deal given by the Browns to Watson. Surely, they’re letting the Commissioner hear about it. Sort of like when the other owners were letting the Commissioner hear about the perceived wrist slap the Patriots received for Spygate. Which contributed directly to the trumped-up charges and conclusions in Deflategate.
So the Browns may need Mayfield, and it could be a tenuous win-win. He needs a place to play — and to play well — as he prepares to become a free agent. The Browns may need a starter for all, not just part, of 2022.
The sooner the Browns know what will happen, the better suited the Browns will be to make good decisions about Mayfield. If Watson ends up not playing at all in 2022, the best decision could be to rebuild the bridge, albeit temporarily, with Baker.
And if that can’t happen, they could trade Baker straight up for Sam Darnold, swapping identical $18.8 million base salaries and taking some solace in the reality that Darnold, for better or worse, is not Mayfield.