Baker Mayfield wants a divorce. The Cleveland Browns, however, are reluctant to sign the papers, at least for now.
Mayfield asked for a trade Thursday afternoon, but the Browns responded by telling the quarterback’s agent they are not accommodating the request, two people familiar with the situation confirmed.
Mayfield and the Browns are at odds after the franchise’s failed attempt to lure controversial Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to Cleveland.
On Thursday morning, the Browns were informed Watson would not waive the no-trade clause in his contract to come to Cleveland. The New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are the other suitors, and Watson has yet to choose where he will allow the Texans to send him in a trade.
Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct or sexual assault by two dozen women during massage appointments, yet NFL teams began aggressively pursuing a trade for the three-time Pro Bowl selection after a grand jury decided Friday he wouldn’t be criminally charged. Watson still faces 22 civil lawsuits and a likely NFL suspension.
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Baker Mayfield’s letter to Browns fans felt like a farewell
The Browns taking their shot in the Watson sweepstakes exacerbated issues they already had with Mayfield, who publicly criticized the play calling of coach Kevin Stefanski twice in Cleveland’s disappointing 2021 season.
As Browns brass flew back from Houston on Tuesday night after meeting with Watson, Mayfield posted what read like a farewell letter to Cleveland on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“I have given this franchise everything I have,” Mayfield, a former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Oklahoma, wrote. “That is something I’ve always done at every stage, and at every level. And that will not change wherever I take my next snap. Whatever happens I just want to say thank you to the fans who truly embraced who I am and the mentality that aligned so well with this city’s hard working people.”
General manager Andrew Berry told Browns beat writers Jan. 11 and March 1 he “fully” expected Mayfield to be the team’s starting quarterback next season.
Berry echoed the sentiment in a meeting with Mayfield’s agent two weeks ago at the NFL scouting combine, a person familiar with the situation told the USA TODAY Network. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details about the meeting. Berry also explained during the meeting he would conduct due diligence on other quarterbacks, but the Browns did not notify Mayfield’s camp they would meet with Watson this week, the person said.
The Browns obviously knew they would jeopardize their partnership with the fiery Mayfield by going after Watson, but team brass deemed it worth the risk.
After all, the Browns have not committed to Mayfield long term. He’s under contract through next season because, in April, Berry exercised the fifth-year option on the quarterback’s rookie deal for $18.858 million. Entering last fall, the Browns and Mayfield, 26, had hoped for a long-term contract extension, but the season went sideways, and a deal never materialized.
If the Browns acquiesce to Mayfield, the quarterback-needy Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks would be among the logical trade partners. Other losers in the chase for Watson could enter the equation, too.
Only two quarterbacks in the NFL common era (since 1967) have become a No. 1 overall draft pick and last four or fewer seasons with their first team, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The players on the list are JaMarcus Russell (Oakland Raiders 2007-09) and Jeff George (Indianapolis Colts 1990-93). If Mayfield has his way, he would become the third.
Other quarterback options the Browns could consider
The Browns intend to move forward with Mayfield, a person with knowledge of the situation told the USA TODAY Network. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. Yet the strained relationship might become too much of a distraction to tolerate.
On the field, Watson would have been an obvious upgrade over Mayfield. The Browns consider Derek Carr another quarterback who would fit that description, but the Las Vegas Raiders might be more likely to commit to Carr with a contract extension than trade him.
Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers) and Gardner Minshew (Philadelphia Eagles) are among other potential quarterback trade targets, and Matt Ryan (Falcons) would be if Watson were to pick Atlanta. Watson, 26, is a native of Gainesville, Georgia.
Marcus Mariota (Raiders) and Jameis Winston (Saints) are unrestricted free agents. On Thursday, Winston told Anderson he has had conversations with the Saints and Colts.
The Browns also have the 13th overall pick in the April 28-30 draft and could seek a quarterback earlier than what had been previously expected. Most analysts project Liberty’s Malik Willis and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett to be chosen in the opening round.
Baker Mayfield is coming off a rough, injury-riddled season
Picked atop the 2018 draft by former GM John Dorsey, Mayfield played hurt for the vast majority of last season and struggled as the Browns went 8-9 despite their Super Bowl expectations.
Mayfield finished 253-of-418 passing (60.5%) for 3,010 yards and 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions for a rating of 83.1 in 14 games, going 6-8 as a starter. His completion percentage and rating ranked 27th among 31 qualifying quarterbacks. He rushed 37 times for 134 yards (3.6 average) and a touchdown. He took 43 bags.
In the second half of the 2020 season, Mayfield excelled under Stefanski, and the Browns went 11-5 in the regular season. They reached the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and earned their first postseason win since Jan. 1, 1995, with a 48-37 wild-card triumph in Pittsburgh. They lost 22-17 to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round at Arrowhead Stadium.
When last season began, Mayfield appeared poised to maintain his momentum. He played well in a 33-29 season-opening loss to the Chiefs and a 31-21 win over the Texans in Week 2. But Mayfield also suffered a completely torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder against the Texans when he tried to make a tackle during an interception return. The shoulder, two protective harnesses and other injuries affected his play. He had shoulder surgery Jan. 19.
But Mayfield has been inconsistent throughout his career. He played well as a rookie in 2018 before regressing in 2019 and then bouncing back in 2020, his first season with Stefanski.
As an NFL starter, Mayfield has a record of 30-31, including 1-1 in the playoffs. He has completed 61.6% of his passes for 14,125 yards and 92 touchdowns with 56 interceptions for a rating of 87.8.
And after four seasons in a Browns uniform, he’s looking for a change.