When it comes to disgruntled quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns might not rush into a final decision.
USA Today's Josina Anderson reported Tuesday the Browns "currently plan a patient approach" toward Mayfield. Anderson added that the 2018 first-round pick might even open the 2022 NFL season with the team:
IG: JosinaAnderson @JosinaAnderson
While anything can happen my understanding is the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a> currently plan a patient approach w/ Baker Mayfield's situation. It's also entirely possible they enter the regular season with Mayfield still on the roster & in position to suit up pending Deshaun Watson's playing status.
IG: JosinaAnderson @JosinaAnderson
2/2 The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a> are budgeted for Mayfield's 5th-yr option salary of $18.8M w/ Watson on the team. Mechanically this means the team is artfully in position to leverage his presence on the roster for a longer window. Meanwhile, Mayfield's not in position to protest in a good light.
While he's no longer at risk of facing criminal charges, Deshaun Watson could potentially face a suspension because he remains the subject of 22 civil lawsuits tied to allegations of sexual misconduct.
In the event Watson does miss any time, still having a fully healthy Mayfield—he underwent shoulder surgery in January—would be a nice contingency for Cleveland.
Mayfield's contract provides another reason for the Browns to keep him in the absence of a worthwhile trade. His $18.9 million salary for 2022 will still count toward the team's cap if he's released.
Addressing the matter Tuesday, general manager Andrew Berry said he and the team "don't have a specific timetable for the QB" and that "we don't really feel pressed to rush innto anything that's suboptimal."
Despite Anderson's report and Berry's public stance, one can't help but wonder whether this is an attempt by the Browns to increase their leverage at a time when they have little bargaining power.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported last Friday the trade market for Mayfield is lukewarm at best because of his salary:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
From NFL Now: Teams are interested in Baker Mayfield, but not at that salary. A look at what's next, how it'll play out... and whether the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a> could just keep him. <a href="https://t.co/cQIzyZoaRK">pic.twitter.com/cQIzyZoaRK</a>
Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson spoke to an NFL personnel official who echoed Rapoport's reporting and said that "a lot of teams want him but aren’t going to take on the salary."
The source went on to say interested suitors might call the Browns' bluff: "They would have to eat 80 percent [of Mayfield’s salary], but they have already shown their cards. Teams are going to sit idle and force them to cut Baker because it’s going to be an odd situation keeping him around."
Considering Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot reported Mayfield "had no intentions of playing for the Browns in 2022" prior to the Watson trade, the idea of him being content as Watson's backup might be fanciful at best.
Cleveland has already gone through this to some degree with Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham's relationship with the team rapidly deteriorated midway through the 2021 season to a point where he could no longer remain with the Browns. When nobody was willing to assume his salary, the Browns had to release him outright.
Since he already blinked once with Beckham, Berry might have a hard time convincing his fellow general managers the franchise is prepared to draw a line in the sand with Mayfield.