The final nail in the coffin for Baker Mayfield in Cleveland was hammered home when the Browns completed a trade for Deshaun Watson, but the relationship had grown rotten long before that—indeed, the fifth-year quarterback had already requested a trade by then, and it had long been assumed that he would be moved at some point.
For now, he still remains tied to the Browns on a fifth-year option worth nearly $19 million in fully guaranteed base salary, and if they expect to move him at this point, it’s highly likely that they will have to eat a sizeable portion of that. The most likely trading partner, the Seattle Seahawks, just had their head coach come out and say that they don’t expect to trade for one.
So how did it get this bad? Apparently, it’s all fairly recent, largely going back to last season, with Mayfield struggling to play through the year with a torn labrum. And his final game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was a big part of that, according to a recent article by Jake Trotter, ESPN’s Browns beat writer:
That feeling escalated the next week, on Jan. 3 during a Monday Night Football game in Pittsburgh. In what proved likely to be his final start for the Browns, Mayfield was sacked nine times. Afterward, he called out Stefanski’s game plan.
As Mayfield labored through a listless performance, the Browns kept him in to the final offensive play, which was an interception.
According to multiple sources, those close to Mayfield — who to that point had missed one game because of his shoulder injury — wondered at the time if the Browns were trying to make Mayfield look as hapless as possible in prime time, to potentially pave the way for the franchise to more easily explain why it might be moving on from him in the offseason.
The Browns, through a spokesman, declined to comment on those suspicions.
After the Pittsburgh loss, Mayfield told reporters he would be conferring with his family and agent — not the team — about whether he would play in the season finale against Cincinnati.
That certainly was not a pretty performance in Week 17, as you might recall, but it wasn’t inconsistent with how he played, through that shoulder injury, nearly all year, quite in contrast to how he looked in the preceding 17-plus games under head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Still, Trotter wrote that he had a productive exit meeting with Stefanski at the end of the year and recommitted himself to the Browns, and was ready to move forward. Cleveland evidently was not, at least not without exploring its options, which already included giving Deshaun Watson a hard look last year before the trade deadline.
That pursuit never halted, of course, and they ended up completing that blockbuster trade. Yet Mayfield is still sitting there, in many ways without a team at this point, much as Watson was in a way without a team through the 2021 season. There were many bumps in the road that led them down this path, but that game in Pittsburgh was among the bumpiest—literally.