When the Cleveland Browns acquired Deshaun Watson in a blockbuster trade-and-sign with the Houston Texans back in March, it came on the heels of their starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield, publicly voicing frustration with the team and requesting to be moved. But the Browns haven't honored the former first-overall pick's wish -- in fact, he's still on their roster, with his future in limbo.
The long-anticipated divorce between Mayfield and the Browns has yet to be completed. And with the NFL Draft now in the rearview mirror, it's unclear how much longer the franchise will hold out for a trade opportunity that may never emerge. According to an ESPN report, Cleveland didn't come close to moving Mayfield during draft week, and they're also unwilling to negotiate his release. Although Mayfield's market is thin, NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport doesn't envision the Browns simply ripping the bandage off.
"If you're releasing him, you're paying $18 million, no matter what, and you're getting no draft picks. Surely, somebody would pay $1 million to take him on, then you would get a draft pick," Rapoport explained to The Zach Gelb Show on Monday. "A release makes no sense. And if you're going to pay the money anyway, why wouldn't you just hold him? Nobody knows if Watson is going to be suspended -- when, if, for how many games, all of that.
"So if there's even a possibility he gets suspended, wouldn't you want to hold onto Baker? Maybe he plays for you. Would he want to? No. But, he wouldn't want to not play, either. To me, a lot of scenarios still in play. I think several are on the table... I still see no reason for them to release him. Because, if worse comes to worst, they could just say, 'Stay away while we hold your rights and until someone gets an injury.' They could Watson him."
Mayfield's 2021 campaign was a disastrous. For three-plus months, he played with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, and he underwent successful surgery to repair the injury in mid-January. Because of nagging problems with his shoulder, knee, and foot, the former Heisman Trophy winner threw for only 3,010 yards with 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a career-low 35.1 QBR in 14 games. Cleveland finished the season 8-9, and missed the AFC playoffs.
The Browns exercised the fifth-year option on Mayfield last spring, and he's set to make $18.8 million in 2022. Despite the injury concerns and mediocre performances, Spotrac lists his current market value at $159.4 million across five years. With an average annual value (AAV) of $31 million, Mayfield would become the league's 10th-highest paid player and quarterback. But, there's virtually no chance that he'll receive this type of contract anytime soon.
The entire NFL conversation between Rapoport and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.