There is a strong sense of urgency surrounding the Cleveland Browns and their decision on what to do with quarterback Baker Mayfield. But the situation is actually not as immediate or dire as it might seem.
Mayfield is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal in 2022 and Cleveland has yet to offer him an extension. The young quarterback is also coming off the worst campaign of his career and just underwent surgery this past week to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. These circumstances have led to pressing questions about Mayfield’s future with the team and the Browns’ future at quarterback. The answers to those questions, however, are simpler and perhaps less pressing than they appear.
Doug Kyed, of Pro Football Focus (PFF), spoke this week to what the Browns’ approach should be in an interview with Heavy’s Stephanie Otey.
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“He’s got the fifth-year option coming up, so I can’t really see the Browns getting rid of Mayfield this offseason,” Kyed said. “I think that with the injuries that he had last season, the potential that he showed earlier in his career, I think you have to give it at least one more year with Baker Mayfield to see if, when he’s fully healthy, if he can start performing a little bit better. Because this season really was pretty much as bad as it could be for Baker Mayfield.”
Browns Can Decide Annually on Mayfield For Years to Come
Cleveland owes Mayfield a little more than $18.8 million next season, after which he will become a free agent if no agreement on a contract extension is reached. Recent weeks have been defined by a considerable number of trade rumors floating around Mayfield. Former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum said recently that the QB market is such around the league that Mayfield probably carries second-round or third-round value in any prospective deal.
Kyed said the smart money is not on the Browns trading Mayfield whose value, while still relatively high, is probably at an all-time low. Instead, he proposed a different solution — keeping the QB through the final year of his contract, applying some internal pressure to boost his performance and keeping the franchise tag handy as a failsafe.
“I think that they also have the potential to go year-to-year with him,” Kyed said. “I think you can also draft a quarterback, maybe in the second round, to give yourself a little bit of insurance.”
“We talked about those guys earlier,” he continued. “They can take one of those top six quarterbacks just to maybe push Baker Mayfield and say, ‘Alright, if you have the same season that you did last year, then we’re going to move forward with this guy and you can become free agent after the year.’ But if Baker Mayfield is good in 2022, then they could franchise him in 2023 [or] they could still sign him to a contract extension.”
Franchise Tag is Tool Browns Can Use With Mayfield More Than Once
If Mayfield doesn’t play up to the standards of a new contract in 2022, or if the price isn’t right after this season on the trade market, or if the QB is good enough to hang onto but not to invest in for the long-term, then there is always the franchise tag. And if any, or all, of the scenarios listed above repeat themselves in 2023, the Browns can franchise him again the following year.
This strategy would allow Cleveland to keep their QB in-house without breaking the bank on him for years to come. As far as Kyed is concerned, it’s the only real way forward for the Browns considering all the moving parts around Mayfield.
“They could franchise him a couple of different times. So they don’t really need to commit to Baker Mayfield, truly, probably until like 2025,” Kyed said. “They’ve got a lot of options on the table. I think it makes sense to let him at least prove what he can do in 2022 when there’s better pieces around him and when he’s fully healthy.”