The Browns had a bird in the hand. They pursued the proverbial two in the bush. It worked. And yet they’re still clinging to the bird in the hand.
Chris Simms and I spent plenty of time during Monday’s PFT Live fleshing out the argument that it’s wrong for the Browns to squat on quarterback Baker Mayfield, now that they’ve gone all in on quarterback Deshaun Watson. It’s a classic sunk cost. They made a $230 million investment in getting Watson. What’s another $18.8 million (minus whatever he would earn with a new team) if they simply cut the cord on Mayfield?
The Browns think the sunk cost can be partially or maybe even completely recovered, if a trade opportunity that currently doesn’t exist materializes at some point between now and the start of the regular season, or perhaps even the trade deadline. But that hinges on a chain of events that likely won’t happen.
First, a team needs to lose its current starter. Second, that team needs to opt for an approach other than “next man up.” Third, the Browns need to be the ones to get the deal done for Mayfield before the 49ers can for Jimmy Gaoppolo.
There’s another way to recover all or part of the sunk costs. If Mayfield ultimately cries uncle and gives up part of his guaranteed salary or if Mayfield says or does something to justify cutting him for reasons other than skill, injury, or cap, the Browns can emerge with a victory.
Meanwhile, Mayfield’s ongoing presence on the roster creates yet another distraction for the Browns. And it’s definitely a distraction. Even if the Browns win this interaction with a quarterback they can’t wait to officially remove from the roster, none of it will help them win games, especially not in 2022.
Last week’s ESPN.com article regarding the current mood between Baker and the Browns shows that the bridge has been obliterated. There’s no rebuilding it, even if Watson were suspended for a year and the Browns tried to persuade Baker to stick around for one more season. If, as ESPN.com reported, Mayfield and/or those in his camp believe the Browns deliberately tried to make him look bad in a prime-time game at Pittsburgh, Mayfield is done with the Browns.
“Not if he wants his $18.8 million this year,” owner Jimmy Haslam and/or Chief Strategy Officer (who has yet to craft many effective strategies in Cleveland) Paul DePodesta might say. But that’s the kind of short-sighted, misguided thinking that results in the Browns get caught up in factors other than having a winning team.
Even though Mayfield doesn’t seem to be very popular with his teammates, it’s fair for other players to conclude that the Browns have done Baker dirty. They told him after the season that he’d be the guy for 2022. Then, they told his agents at the Scouting Combine that he’ll be the guy, unless they can get someone like Watson, Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson. Then, the Browns said the Watson trade was five months in the making — even if it ended with a five-year, fully-guaranteed Hail Mary.
JuJu was right. The Browns is the Browns. Even as the team becomes more competitive, dysfunction lingers in the organization. Their handling of Mayfield proves it. Intent on treating him like property and not like a human being whose career hinges on getting himself in position to find a new home sooner than later, the Browns are sending a very bad message to current and future members of the team.
But, hey, no one should be surprised. With a Chief Strategy Officer on the payroll, there’s always a strategy, for everything. Even when the best strategy would be to ditch the strategizing and just do the right thing.
The right thing to do in this specific case is to cut Mayfield and move on. It’s in his best interests, and it’s in the team’s best interests — even if the Chief Strategy Officer fails to see it.