The Browns and Baker Mayfield may eventually need each other in 2022. Someone may be trying to blow things up before it ever gets to that point.
A new article from Jake Trotter of ESPN.com throws more bituminous on the burn pile in Cleveland, highlighting how and why player and team got to the point of no return. It comes at a time when a return has emerged as a potentially plausible outcome, especially with new starter Deshaun Watson possibly facing a longer suspension than anyone expects.
Here are the specific comments that caught our eye when reviewing Trotter’s article.
Regarding the events that led to the release of receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Trotter reports that OBJ didn’t call or text Mayfield after OBJ’s father posted a video of instances where Mayfield missed or overthrew Beckham, even though the pair “often played video games together” and had vacationed in Montana with other teammates over Labor Day weekend.
Then there’s this. An unnamed starter made the following comment when asked if he’d seen the video posted by Beckham’s father: “Why would I watch the video? I see it every day in practice.”
Trotter also reports that multiple sources close to Mayfield wonder whether the team specifically tried to make him “look as hapless as possible” in the Monday night finale in Pittsburgh, in order to make it easier to move on from Mayfield after the season. The Browns declined to provide a comment to Trotter as to those suspicions.
Mayfield also became upset when he learned via social media on March 15 that the Browns’ brain trust was flying to Houston to meet with Deshaun Watson. Per Trotter, the last straw came for Mayfield the next day, when ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that the Browns want “an adult” at quarterback.
Trotter’s story bears the fingerprints of Baker Mayfield or those close to him. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to stay in Cleveland. It’s also obvious that the Browns, who owe him $18.8 million this year fully guaranteed, aren’t inclined to let him go just because he wants to be gone.
How it plays out could become a huge story for the balance of the offseason, especially if the Browns continue to wait for a trade opportunity that may never arise — and if the Browns lose Watson for longer than they expect and hope to make Mayfield earn his $18.8 million playing for them.
Through it all, Mayfield needs to tread lightly. As explained recently, if Mayfield misbehaves the Browns could try to cut him for “personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the Club, adversely affects . . . the Club” and avoid the $18.8 million obligation.
The passage of time may not make this any better. Barring a highly-unlikely serious injury to a starter on a team that opts to look elsewhere in lieu of using the “next man up,” the Browns may choose to play it out with Mayfield, tolerating the distraction of having him while waiting and hoping he makes the kind of misstep that will allow them to cut him and not pay him.
With the worst-case scenario — Mayfield being cut and going straight to Pittsburgh — now highly unlikely given the drafting of Kenny Pickett, maybe Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta has cooked up something aimed at getting Mayfield to cross the line that allows them to cross him off the roster with no further financial obligation.
Hopefully, DePodesta’s four-month plan will work better than his “4-year plan.”