The NFL Draft has the reputation as arguably the biggest night of the year for blockbuster trades. In 2022, the Cleveland Browns are expected to be deep in that mix.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield has been one of the most talked about trade candidates in the NFL since the Browns inked former Houston Texans signal caller Deshaun Watson to the largest guaranteed contract in league history last month.
What makes Mayfield’s case even more interesting, however, is the lack of leverage Cleveland is perceived to possess in any upcoming trade negotiations. Part of that is on the team, due to its spurning of Mayfield in its immediate signings of Watson and backup Jacoby Brissett before testing the market for its four-year starter. A portion of the blame also falls on Mayfield for playing hurt all season and nuking his value after posting career-low stats nearly across the board. And the final factor involves several prospective trade partners around the league that decided to go another way this offseason — the Indianapolis Colts trading for Matt Ryan and the Denver Broncos dealing for Russell Wilson, just to name two.
However, at least one analyst believes that Mayfield is the “most likely” player in the entirety of the NFL to be traded on draft night, which is scheduled for Thursday, April 28. And the trade partner for Mayfield? The same team that sent Wilson to the Rocky Mountains for the second act of his already prolific career — the Seattle Seahawks.
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Seahawks ‘Likely’ to Trade For Browns Mayfield, Per Two B/R Analysts
Alex Kay of Bleacher Report wrote on Wednesday, April 6 that New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo are both likely candidates to move on draft night — but neither is as poised for a change of uniform as is Mayfield.
That is primarily due to the damage the Browns have done to their relationship with the young quarterback, Kay explained.
The relationship between the incumbent starting signal-caller and the organization was already deteriorating before the Watson trade took place.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Browns wanted to replace Mayfield with an “adult” at the position, and Mayfield requested a trade and authored a goodbye letter to the city of Cleveland after his employer brought in Watson for a meeting.
Although the saga is effectively in the rearview, it won’t officially end until the Browns release or trade Mayfield. That day could finally come during the 2022 draft, when several teams could turn to Mayfield to fill their QB needs.
It isn’t just Kay who believes that Mayfield will not only be traded, but that the trade will be completed with the Seahawks and will happen on, or even before, draft night. Kristopher Knox, also of Bleacher Report, offered his analysis on the subject Tuesday, March 29.
“Bringing in Mayfield to compete with [current Seattle QB Drew] Lock would make a ton of sense at the right price,” Knox wrote. “Cleveland could potentially get a second-round pick if it eats a large portion of Mayfield’s cap hit. However, the Seahawks don’t appear to have any real competition on the trade market, so a third-round pick probably gets this one done.”
NFL Insider Says Seahawks Make ‘Most Sense’ as Team For Mayfield
As Knox noted, the Browns will likely need to pay a significant amount of Mayfield’s nearly $19 million salary in 2022, which they guaranteed when they picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported as much on March 25.
“If the Browns are able to eat some money, if the agent and the new team can work it out and come up with some sort of answer [on] how to split or deal with Baker Mayfield’s salary, then I believe he will be traded,” Rapoport said.
That is not an ideal situation for Cleveland, which may be without Watson for several games to begin the season due to his off-field problems involving 22 unresolved civil complaints that allege various forms of sexual misconduct.
Thus, the flip side of the coin is that the Browns hold onto Mayfield, start him a few times in Watson’s stead, and increase his value one of two ways — either through higher quality play than the QB displayed while hurt last season, and/or as injury strikes another team rendering Mayfield in greater demand.
The latter is the line that Browns brass has taken for the time being, as general manager Andrew Berry tries to regain some of the leverage he squandered by alienating Mayfield with his offseason moves.
“I wouldn’t say we have a specific timetable for the QB room,” Berry said during a March 29 Zoom call with reporters, per The Athletic’s Zac Jackson. “Baker is a professional, he’s under contract, and we have the [salary cap] flexibility whether he’s on the roster or not. So we don’t really feel pressed to rush into anything that’s suboptimal.”
But there is risk in retaining Mayfield and running him out as the start to begin next season. The quarterback could play poorly and damage his value to an even greater extent, this time without injury to use as an excuse for his lack of performance. Mayfield could also get hurt again, in which case the Browns would have to eat all of his salary instead of just a portion of it. Not to mention, Cleveland would lose out on whatever pick they might be able to squeeze out of a hypothetical trade with the Seahawks.
Considering all the risks, it might behoove the Browns to get a deal done sooner than later, and there is no better time to trade than on draft night.