NFL News & Analysis

Which NFL teams make the most sense for Baker Mayfield?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL Draft passed without any significant movement from the veteran quarterbacks still expected to be available before the season begins. Most notably, Baker Mayfield remains in Cleveland because no team wants to trade significant resources to be on the hook for his fifth-year option price of around $18 million.

Mayfield has become something of a pariah after tearing his shoulder early last year and battling through the worsening injury all season rather than shutting it down and getting surgery. He not only cost himself any chance at a monster contract extension with the Browns but has lowered his standing in the eyes of the rest of the league. At this point, nobody is interested in rolling the dice on a capable starting quarterback for $18 million this season.

Mayfield’s brash personality and confrontational tendencies can be viewed as a necessary part of his ultra-competitive makeup when things are going well. But they tend to come off as petulance and a lack of maturity when things unravel.

Let's examine Mayfield's career to this point and which teams might be interested in the signal-caller's services, especially if the price continues to drop.

Mayfield in the NFL

Mayfield's four seasons in the NFL have been a strange ride. His impact on the Browns was immediate: He set the rookie record for touchdowns in his first season despite not starting Week 1. Mayfield was such a clear upgrade over Tyrod Taylor that the franchise immediately deployed as much of the resources it had been stockpiling to build around him.

Year 2 became the debacle of the Freddie Kitchens tenure, and Mayfield’s play regressed, as did the fortunes of the team overall. Kitchens was kicked to the curb and yet another new regime entered.

The following year was Mayfield’s best, and it set him up to enter the 2021 season with sky-high expectations for both him and the team. But then the shoulder injury happened.

All told, Mayfield owns the 17th-best PFF grade of any quarterback since entering the NFL. Throw out the season fighting through an injured shoulder and he climbs to 10th. If you believe the Kitchens year also isn’t representative, then he jumps another two spots.

The point is that Mayfield shouldn’t be seen as a bad quarterback as much someone unable to set a stable baseline through four seasons. Even folding all of his worst play into the mix, he ranks right around the league average, which would be a massive upgrade for multiple teams still in need of a quarterback. Mayfield’s worst season — one in which he was dealing with a major shoulder injury — is pretty analogous to Drew Lock’s best season.

Since coming into the league, only Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes have a higher big-time throw rate than Mayfield (6.0%), but those players have a turnover-worthy play rate approaching half of his. Mayfield makes a lot of big throws, but they are offset by a lot of big mistakes relative to elite passers. Those mistakes are the issue with his game — and they live long in the memory of anybody watching him play.

But even factoring those problems into the analysis, you end up with an average quarterback in terms of qualitative grading or objective production.

The Contract Situation

Mayfield’s biggest issue is his contract situation. A year ago he was working his way toward a big extension with Cleveland, but that was shelved when his play fell off and scrapped entirely when the team made a move for Deshaun Watson

Now Mayfield sits on the cost-controlled, one-year, fifth-year option of a former first-round pick, but his cheap years are over. If he moves to a new team and plays well, that team is on the hook for a new contract — or the muddy waters of franchise tags and short-term guarantees. 

There has been so much inconsistency to Mayfield's game that even a good year isn’t going to make any team comfortable enough to hand him a monster new contract. So any path forward is going to navigate the bumpy waters of limited guarantees and commitment, which isn’t exactly a recipe for a happy quarterback relationship. 

Unfortunately for Mayfield, he has managed to land right in the middle of a new zone of quarterback purgatory where his play has been good enough to warrant a starting position but not good enough to command a huge second contract. The surplus value in his play exists only when he is on a cheap deal, and as soon as that moves to a higher figure, his play needs to show a consistent jump to the next level to offset that additional cost.

Seattle Seahawks

The most obvious destination for Mayfield is now Seattle. The Seahawks went into the draft without a viable starter and used precisely none of their draft picks to select a quarterback.

Drew Lock and Geno Smith are presumably vying for that starting spot, and neither player has shown the ability to hit even average quarterback play over a full season. Smith’s best year in terms of PFF grading came last season (73.9) and involved just 202 snaps. Lock has never had a PFF season grade above 65.0.

Seattle is in the midst of a post-Russell Wilson rebuild, and it’s difficult to know where quarterback fits into their plans. But Mayfield represents an obvious and significant upgrade over the status quo if they have any designs on winning in 2022. 

The Seahawks are the one team on the market that should be interested in Mayfield even at his current price tag in terms of contract and trade, but only if they are interested in winning games in 2022 and believe that the best version of his play could be a viable medium- to long-term for them.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers came out of the draft with a new quarterback without using the No. 6 overall pick on one, capitalizing on the slide of the top passers to select Matt Corral in the third round. Corral will likely battle Sam Darnold for the starting job in training camp, but could the Panthers maximize their chances of viability at the position by adding Mayfield, whose track record is superior to either player?

They’re likely not interested unless the price tag changes, so the Browns would have to work on a way to eat a significant chunk of Mayfield’s contract if they expect to get any kind of trade out of the Panthers. Carolina investing more draft capital to move up to get Corral makes that even less likely. The team is much more of an option of Mayfield gets cut and hits the open market at a fraction of the cost.

Houston Texans

Don’t rule out the Texans as a possible landing spot. It was reported during the 2018 draft that the New England Patriots loved Mayfield and would have been interested in trading up to take him if he had slid a little. But that became a moot point when the Browns selected him No. 1 overall.

The rebuilding project in Houston was in a holding pattern until they traded away Deshaun Watson, but now it has started in earnest. While they have done little to suggest they will upgrade on Davis Mills this season, their personnel moves thus far have been all about chasing high-ceiling players.

You could certainly argue that if the Texans were in any way interested in Mayfield he would have been folded into the Watson trade, but they might have preferred to see how things played out with the Browns. His asking price is only going down the longer the situation drags on. 

Houston is probably more interested should he be cut, but Nick Caserio may be tempted to flip a late round pick just to roll the dice on his potential, particularly if the Browns can be convinced to sweeten the pot in terms of his contract.

The Backup Options

If Mayfield is finally cut, half the league likely enters the market for him as a backup option.

At the market rate for a starting quarterback, Mayfield’s surplus value is in real debate, but as a backup option making backup money, he would represent one of the best value players in the NFL. He is a capable starter and would be a phenomenal insurance policy for an entrenched starter if a team believes he wouldn’t be a disruptive or disgruntled presence in the locker room.

Ultimately, Mayfield can count himself unfortunate to be standing without a chair as the music stops this offseason. He has been up and down across four seasons in the NFL, but his mean play has been average among league starters. Plus, he has a lot of very valid excuses to explain why it hasn’t been even higher.

If Mayfield wants any chance to start in 2022, he should be doing everything in his power to convince the Seahawks that he can be an answer for them in the future. Otherwise he may have to resign himself to a backup role that will need a little bit of luck to find an opportunity to show he deserves a second chance to start in the league. 

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