Baker Mayfield’s season has come to an end.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said during his Tuesday press conference that the quarterback would undergo left shoulder surgery to repair the torn labrum that has plagued him all season. Mayfield will miss Sunday’s contest against the AFC North champion Bengals, the third game this season he has missed.
The announcement officially ends what has been a disappointing campaign by the fourth-year quarterback. The Browns missed the playoffs after beginning the season with lofty expectations. Mayfield, who appeared to take a major step forward in 2020, regressed again in 2021, perhaps due to injury. He had a 60.5 completion percentage, 17 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and 3,010 passing yards. Over his final two games, losses to the Packers and Steelers, he threw four touchdown passes to six interceptions and a 50 percent completion percentage.
The Browns roster remains among the most loaded in the league, and they should remain a threat in the AFC North in 2022. But Mayfield’s latest struggles have prompted those in Cleveland to speculate as to whether the 2018 NFL Draft’s first overall selection is the presence under center the team needs to be competitive.
Is Baker Mayfield being cut?
While Mayfield will not play against Cincinnati on Sunday, do not expect to see him hitting free agency any time soon.
Cleveland exercised his fifth-year option back in April, meaning that, at least for now, he will remain under contract with the Browns when the offseason begins. His deal is for $18.9 million.
Though he struggled through the 2021 campaign, some of that can be attributed to the injury in his non-throwing shoulder. He is also coming off a promising campaign in which he threw 26 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 3,563 passing yards and a completion percentage of 62.8 percent in leading the Browns to the playoffs and an 11-5 record.
Baker Mayfield landing spots
Just because Mayfield hasn’t been cut yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The Browns could make the decision to part ways with the quarterback this offseason and begin looking at options to pursue another starter under center.
However, it’s also possible that he could be traded, perhaps as part of a package for another quarterback. This past offseason, the Rams and Lions pulled off a trade in which Los Angeles, hoping to improve at quarterback around its talented roster, sent a younger quarterback (Jared Goff) and a bevy of picks to Detroit in exchange for the more successful Matthew Stafford.
Could the Browns look at something similar?
If Mayfield is going to be on the move, here’s a few places he could wind up.
A Wilson-for-Mayfield swap would give Cleveland an experienced quarterback who not only has continued to play at an MVP level, but has experience leading teams to the Super Bowl. The big obstacle in a potential move would be whether Wilson wants to go to northeast Ohio. According to Jordan Schultz, only the Saints, Giants and Broncos would tempt Wilson to waive his no-trade clause.
Perhaps, however, the weapons available in Cleveland and a winnable division would prompt him to reconsider the Browns as a destination should the teams come close to a deal.
Denver has been in the market for a top quarterback for a while, including Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. But if the Broncos are unable to land one of those two, perhaps they take a chance on Mayfield.
Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent after this season and Drew Lock continues to struggle under center. Mayfield might not be the big splash the team is looking for, but the change of scene and improved offensive line could allow him to take a step up in his game.
It would be a bit of a homecoming for Mayfield, who was born and raised in Austin, Tex., and began his college career at Texas Tech before going to Oklahoma. Much like the Seahawks, this would likely hinge on a swap of Watson-for-Mayfield, with Houston pitting him against former third-round pick Davis Mills for the job.
The MMQB’s Albert Breer believes Cleveland will be in the Watson sweepstakes that is likely to ensue this offseason, depending on the outcome of the 20-plus lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and the NFL investigation into the matter.
Browns’ 2022 QB options
Moving Mayfield is one thing, but finding another starting quarterback is another. The 2022 NFL Draft class for quarterbacks isn’t as deep as past years, and it seems unlikely that a team ready for Super Bowl contention would gamble on a rookie quarterback when it already has a signal-caller that has taken it to the playoffs and won a game.
There are a few quarterbacks, including Wilson and Watson, that could make sense as trade candidates for the Browns. We already discussed the aforementioned two QBs as options, so they won’t be included below.
This is obviously the dream scenario for Browns’ fans. Acquire a future Hall of Famer, perennial MVP candidate and Super Bowl-winning quarterback? Yes, please.
Rodgers has been rumored as a potential trade candidate since the start of last offseason, and this upcoming offseason could be when he finds himself on the move again. At 38 years old, he’d likely want to go to an immediate contender, and the Browns would certainly qualify.
The Raiders have had a tumultuous season to say the least, yet they could still find themselves in the playoffs. However, this upcoming offseason could see the organization shake things up, starting with addressing an uncertain future at quarterback.
While Carr could be handed an extension, it is also possible that the Raiders trade him and reset the organization with a younger quarterback. The 30-year-old QB quietly remains a productive starter in the NFL, having passed for 20-plus touchdowns in all but one season in his career and having posted a completion percentage above 67 percent in each season since 2018.
Prior to being the head coach in Cleveland, Stefanski was the offensive coordinator for the Vikings in 2019. That team reached the playoffs, ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring and Cousins posted the highest quarterback rating of his career at 107.4.
The Vikings haven’t made the playoffs since and seem likely to move on from head coach Mike Zimmer in the offseason. Cousins will be 34 years old at the start of next season, and doesn’t seem like the face of the franchise moving forward. However, he could be the answer for the Browns as he has continued to find success through the air. He has 65 touchdown passes in his last two seasons and this year has thrown just seven interceptions. Assuming he plays on Sunday, he will also pass for more than 4,000 yards for the second time in as many years.