Oklahoma football: Where could Baker Mayfield play next?

Sep 12, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) calls an audible against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) calls an audible against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has proudly declared that he will be a Sooner forever, but he won’t be saying that about his present employer, the Cleveland Browns.

Mayfield and the Browns entered the 2021 NFL seasons with hopes of a deep playoff run after a very successful 2020 season that saw them finish just two wins away from appearing in Super Bowl LV.

What’s that they say about the best laid plans? Last season did not go according to plan for Mayfield, as he injured his left shoulder just five quarters into the season. And although he continued to play, he reinjured that shoulder against the Arizona Cardinals, causing him to miss a game.

Mayfield continued to play hurt, as the Browns were still in playoff contention. This resulted in the former Sooner quarterback being injured worse as the season went along, as he carried many nagging injuries along with him. His play and the play of the Browns suffered as Mayfield was unable to place the ball as accurately down the field as well as he had in 2020.

Cleveland missed the playoffs, but Mayfield still appeared to have the support of the Browns’ brass as they said they wanted to move forward with him as their QB1. Then everything changed as it was reported that the Browns were one of the teams in the running for Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson was and still is facing upwards of twenty accusations of sexual misconduct relating to massage therapists (currently twenty-six in all). He was available because he no longer wanted to play for the Texans, and he sat out the 2021 season. Teams that wanted to acquire him had to present Houston with a trade package they liked and had to be a destination Watson was happy with.

Mayfield felt that he had been lied to and posted a goodbye to the city and fans of Cleveland on social media.

It was then reported that Watson had eliminated Cleveland as one of his potential destinations, at which point it was also leaked that Browns GM Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski were searching for an “adult” in the quarterback room, after seemingly standing behind Mayfield and his unique personality since the pair had been hired two years prior.

This was the final straw for Mayfield, and he requested a trade. The Browns refused, still needing a starting quarterback after losing out on Watson. Then, Cleveland went all-in and offered Watson $230 million of guaranteed money to change his mind and come to Cleveland, legal troubles and all. They also offered a boatload of assets to the Texans.

Deshaun Watson is in, but where does that leave Baker Mayfield?

Watson obliged and the trade with Houston was completed, and Watson is now a Brown. Cleveland structured Watson’s contract in a way that he still gets the bulk of his money backloaded, if he is suspended for the entirety of the 2022 season.

This seemingly opened up the Browns to trade away Mayfield. However, they eroded his trade market by asking far more for Mayfield than a team like the Atlanta Falcons was asking for veteran Matt Ryan.

Even after dropping the asking price, Cleveland is still refusing to pay most of Mayfield’s salary to make him a more attractive target for potential buyers. The offseason quarterback market has since dried up, leaving Mayfield with very few spots to go to as we start July.

Mayfield was excused from attending Browns mandatory minicamp in June, but with training camps arriving in just a few weeks, one would expect the Browns to release or trade Mayfield in order to get his contract off the books and prevent an awkward environment in the locker room with Mayfield still on the roster.

This would benefit Mayfield by allowing him to build chemistry with his new teammates and catch up in the quarterback competition, but Cleveland still refuses to make a deal.

Of course, the catch is that no one knows exactly how long Watson will be suspended by the NFL, because of his legal issues and the sexual assault cases against him. Cleveland also has Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs in the QB room, with Brissett being the presumed starter if and when Watson is suspended.

Some have hypothesized that Mayfield could return to the Browns and start while Watson is suspended. But, given Mayfield’s personality, the tension that would create in the locker room, and Mayfield’s own comments on the matter (made at a camp he was putting on for kids back in Oklahoma, the same day Watson’s disciplinary hearing with the NFL was beginning) it would seem that neither party is interested in Mayfield ever suiting up as a Brown again.

If not Cleveland, then where for Mayfield?

So, where could Mayfield play next? It is important to remember that Mayfield is not the only quarterback looking for a new home. Players like Jimmy Garoppolo and Jordan Love could also be on the trading block from their current teams.

Cam Newton, Mike Glennon and A.J. McCarron are all veteran free agents that still need a new team for 2022. Recognizable backups like Mason Rudolph, Tyler Huntley, Gardner Minshew and Taylor Heinicke could also be moved if injury were to befall another team’s starter in training camp.

But, given his pedigree, and the fact that he is still a young player, Mayfield would seem to rank as the most desirable out of all of those names. The same teams seem to come up every time there is conversation about a Mayfield trade, but some have hypothesized that a wild card team could swoop in and snatch up the former Heisman winner.

Teams like the Dolphins, Giants, Eagles, Commanders and 49ers have been posed as wild card landing spots for Mayfield, but none seem to have much traction or make much sense for the team or for Mayfield.

The Texans already made one QB deal with the Browns, but Mayfield would have seemingly been in the Watson trade if Houston were interested. Davis Mills is entering his first full season as the starter in Houston, and the Texans really need to figure out if Mills is the franchise quarterback for them. Kyle Allen has the backup role in the event Mills is injured.

Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows

The Lions could certainly stand to upgrade at the QB position over Jared Goff, but they stood pat at that spot this offseason. Detroit could be looking to lose a bunch of games again this year and draft their franchise quarterback at the top of next year’s draft.

The Saints re-signed Jameis Winston this offseason, after he was injured midway through 2021. Winston has turned into a fan favorite and a locker room favorite in New Orleans, but Mayfield is likely the better overall player, and the Saints did not draft a quarterback this year. Still, New Orleans wants to see where a full year with a healthy Winston can take them, and the QB room is already very full with the likes of Andy Dalton, Taysom Hill (who is likely switching to tight end) and Ian Book.

The Saints could be in the QB market going forward, but they have hitched their wagon to Winston for at least 2022.

The three mostly likely places Mayfield could end up are: Carolina, Tampa Bay or Seattle. The Panthers already have a crowded quarterback room with Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker and Matt Corral, and they were seemingly out of the Mayfield sweepstakes after selecting Corral in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. However, they have remained in conversation with the Browns, and are the closest team to acquring Mayfield via trade.

Money is the issue in the Panthers-Browns discussions, as both sides think the other should pay a larger chunk of Mayfield’ nearly $20M annual salary.

Mayfield would be an upgrade over any current QB in Carolina, but would still need to beat out both Darnold and Corral to be the starter. This does not feel like a long-term option for Mayfield, as Corral was chosen to be the future face of the franchise as the writing is on the wall for Darnold.

The Buccaneers are only a destination for Mayfield if he is released, not traded. Obviously Tom Brady is the starter in Tampa Bay, but this could be his final year in the league. Mayfield could sign there as the backup on a one-year deal and earn some goodwill in the locker room. Then, when his contract is up next offseason, he could plausibly return to the Bucs if there is mutual interest and Brady were to retire for real this time.

Tampa Bay is obviously a bit of a long shot, but it would allow Mayfield to learn from Brady and build a rapport with Bucs’ offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Of course if Brady is injured, Mayfield would be pushed into action with a very good team around him.

The most likely future team for Mayfield is the Seahawks. They have also been in trade discussions with the Browns, and those talks have also been halted based on money. Seattle is choosing between Drew Lock, Geno Smith and Jacob Eason to be their quarterback this year, and Mayfield could easily beat out any of those names for the job.

Seattle is in a bit of a rebuild after parting ways with QB Russell Wilson and LB Bobby Wagner this offseason, but playing out the final year of his contract with the Seahawks and playing well could be exactly what Mayfield needs to propel him to a new contract with more of a contender when he is a free agent next offseason.

Regardless of where Baker Mayfield ends up, Sooner fans will of course be watching closely and Mayfield will get another shot to be the man for a franchise at some point in this league. All he has to do is take that opportunity and run with it.