The Browns finally ended the Baker Mayfield drama on Wednesday by agreeing to trade their embattled quarterback to the Panthers in exchange for a conditional 2024 mid-round draft pick—either a fourth or a fifth depending on playing time.
Cleveland will also pick up the bulk of Mayfield’s 2022 salary, while the former number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft has agreed to a bit of a pay cut in order to help grease the wheels for this deal to go through.
As a Steelers fan, you probably want to laugh at the Browns and Mayfield for how quickly everything went sideways less than 18 months after they and he marched into Heinz Field and embarrassed the Steelers in a primetime AFC Wildcard Game.
While I will always laugh at the Browns, I have never laughed at Mayfield. Why? I’ve always been a fan. I’ve been a fan ever since Mayfield went into Ohio Stadium in 2017, led his Oklahoma Sooners to an upset win over those annoying The Ohio State Buckeyes, and then grabbed the OU flag, marched onto the 50-yard line and planted that sucker right in the middle of their huge “O.”
It was glorious, and while I was always a bit skeptical of Mayfield’s pedigree as a true number one overall draft choice, I thought he gave the Browns' floundering franchise the kind of charisma, leadership and fire it had been sorely lacking for the two decades since re-entering the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1999.
Furthermore, Mayfield gave the Browns competence and actual results at the quarterback spot. Following a 2020 regular season in which he threw 26 touchdowns to only eight interceptions, not only did Mayfield lead the Browns to a playoff win in Pittsburgh, but he and they gave the Chiefs everything they could handle in the divisional round at Arrowhead Stadium the following week.
The arrow was clearly pointing up for Mayfield and the Browns, that is until the former suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in 2021 and was never quite the same. Mayfield did play through the injury and did so with his usual fire and intensity. It was easy to assume that the Browns would be huge contenders again in 2022, as long as Mayfield was back to 100 percent.
But there seemed to be even bigger problems with Mayfield and the Browns than just his injury and lackluster performance in 2021. He apparently wasn’t the most popular with his teammates, including Odell Beckham, a known diva receiver who actually won a battle of public opinion against Mayfield and was made to look like the good guy after being traded to the Rams and helping lead them to a Super Bowl victory.
However, to quote former Steelers receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Browns is the Browns, and until proven otherwise, I’m going to assume they’re incapable of getting out of their own way. Maybe this was why they jerked their young quarterback around after drafting him in 2018. They hired and fired multiple head coaches during Mayfield’s four years in Cleveland. They refused to negotiate a new deal even after his fantastic third season in 2020.
Everything came to a head when the Browns traded multiple first-round picks to the Texans this past spring in exchange for Deshaun Watson, a quarterback who, at the time, had 22 sexual assault allegations hanging over his head (that figure has increased since then). Not only did the Browns do that, but they agreed to pay Watson $230 million fully guaranteed. Not only did they do that, but someone within the organization apparently said they wanted an adult as their quarterback.
Wow. It’s like the football version of the Brett Hart/Stone Cold Steve Austin “I Quit” match from the 1997 Wrestlemania when the two combatants switched good guy/bad guy roles right in the middle of the ring, with the latter assuming the role of fan favorite.
How can you not root for Mayfield after he was treated so unfairly by the Browns? (Also, I believe you now owe JuJu an apology for criticizing him over his “The Browns is the Browns” comment prior to that wildcard game.)
To reiterate, I was always a fan, and now that Mayfield is in Carolina and plays in the NFC, I no longer have to hide it. In fact, I can now openly say that if the Browns/Mayfield saga fully came to a head back in March and Mayfield was released outright, I would have been demanding that the Steelers sign him.
As it stands, I think Mayfield is going to be huge in Carolina. He’s going to be for the Panthers what Drew Brees wound up being for the Saints after the Chargers decided that Philip Rivers was the better option.
Only difference? While the Chargers got a lot of great years out of Rivers, I don’t see the Browns getting anything other than a $230 million bill for going after Watson.
Btw, for all of you conspiracy theorists out there, the Browns and Panthers will play one another in Week 1. Assuming the NFL is not rigged or fixed, this is why sports presents the greatest and most authentic reality television.
Lastly, bring on those new Progressive commercials. They should be epic.