February 26, 2024

Some of you saw the title of this piece and thought, “Yes, the Browns have ended their mistake of making him the #1 overall pick in the draft.” Others thought, “Yes, the Browns have made the mistake of getting rid of the only QB to lead them to the playoffs in the last 20 years.”
Which one did I mean?

I don’t know, but ONE of those will turn out to be true. We just don’t know which one yet.

I believe the way the Cleveland Browns’ management has approached the QB position this year has caused great division among their passionate fan base. In early spring, the team seemed committed to playing the 2022 season with Mayfield as the starter. Then they loaded up the Brinks truck with cash and first-round draft picks to obtain Watson from Houston. Then they piddled around with Mayfield, making him persona non grata at OTAs, yet continued to carry him and his $18m of cap space before they finally unloaded him.

That’s what happened – the unloading to Carolina for a conditional fifth, possibly a fourth-round draft pick and $8 million of salary cap relief.

Which Baker Mayfield did they trade?

Was it the dynamic playmaker who helped lead the Browns to the 2020 postseason, then to a playoff win over the hated Steelers?

Or was it the tentative, mistake-prone 2021 version, who played with significant injuries and helped lead the Browns to a disappointing 8-9 record?

Was it the cocky, perhaps arrogant QB who planted the OU flag at midfield in Columbus after leading his Sooners to a win over Ohio State?

Or was it the whiny, brooding QB who thought Cleveland fans were picking on him and he wasn’t getting a fair shake? There was truth to that, but it was still a bad look from someone supposed to be a team leader.

Was it the QB who threw for 545 yards in leading Oklahoma to a 66-59 win over Patrick Mahomes and Texas Tech and who won the Heisman Trophy a year later?

Or was it the QB who was at the helm of six losses in 2021 by less than a touchdown?

So which mistake did the Browns make?

Were they wrong to make him the top overall selection in the 2018 draft? He had amassed some serious credentials during his college career and there wasn’t much dissent among the draftniks about the Browns’ pick.

How much of his regression in 2021 was due to injuries? How much was due to injuries and other issues with his top receivers, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham? Did the coaching staff fail him by putting too much on him while he was well below par physically? With one of the top running back tandems in the league, should they have run the ball more last year and coached Mayfield into being more of a game manager?

Trading Mayfield to Carolina is not likely to provide any conclusive answers. He is going into a murky QB situation with Sam Darnold, who the team acquired last year and Matt Coral, the rookie drafted from Ole Miss this year. Interestingly, Darnold was selected two picks after Mayfield in the 2018 draft by the New York Jets and they come together both on a redemption mission.

Adding to the uncertainty Mayfield faces in Carolina is the tenuous status of head coach Matt Ruhle. On top of that, the leading Panthers receiver, Robby Anderson, has expressed his lack of interest in having Mayfield as a teammate on social media.

At least Mayfield is familiar with dysfunction but he has yet to demonstrate he can rise above it.

Perhaps we’ll see which mistake Cleveland made once Mayfield hits the open market after the season. Without an $18m contract to negotiate through and no draft choices to surrender, surely someone will bring him in and give him a fresh opportunity.

Only then is there a chance that we’ll see if the Browns threw away their future QB, or simply wised up and cut their losses.

Now, we can all focus on the Watson suspension watch, with Jacoby Brissett warming up in the bullpen.

One issue, the Baker Mayfield situation that Cleveland management created has been resolved. More remain and the beginning of training camp is rapidly approaching.

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