By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it weekend in sports, the kind when keeping abreast of everything going on meant an unhealthy amount of time spent staring at a television, or a phone, or both.
Saint Peter’s captured everyone’s hearts only for North Carolina to break them all, with the silver lining of setting up perhaps the most spectacular Final Four matchup you could possibly wish for against Duke — in Coach K’s final season.
The United States is set for the FIFA World Cup barring some mathematical mischief on the final day of qualifying, the Los Angeles Lakers took their latest step into ignominy by slipping to 10th in the NBA’s Western Conference, and, before the Academy Awards turned unforgettably chaotic for other reasons, Shaquille O’Neal and Steph Curry both won an Oscar.
And, after all that, we are spending today’s column talking about an NFL quarterback whose team doesn’t want him, who isn’t getting love from anyone else right now, and who seems to face an uphill battle to be a starter — or even to be employed—once the new season begins.
Did Baker Mayfield ‘overplay his hand?’
Baker Mayfield remains on the Cleveland Browns roster despite adding Deshaun Watson in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Texans. Shannon Sharpe reacts to the situation.
Baker Mayfield didn’t have a particularly good campaign last year for the Cleveland Browns, but everything that’s happened since has added up to an offseason of spectacular woe. Yet, as things seem to lurch from one impudent roadblock to another for the 2018 No. 1 pick, it is time here for a quick public service announcement.
It’s just this: Tempting though it may be, don’t allow yourself to dive headlong into the doom-and-gloom narrative surrounding Mayfield and the current mess he finds himself in.
Whether you’re Team Baker or Team Hater — and this column spelled out recently how they are countless numbers of people in both camps — the line of thinking that suggests Mayfield is in for unceasing humiliation all summer long is almost certainly way off the mark.
Aside from the fact that his $18.8 million salary is fully guaranteed, things are not going well in Mayfield’s world. After playing injured for much of last season and seeing his numbers drop off, he could only watch as the Browns first entered the chase to land Deshaun Watson, then won that battle with a monumental financial offer totaling $230 million guaranteed over five years.
Are Browns contenders after adding Deshaun Watson?
The Cleveland Browns formally introduced quarterback Deshaun Watson to members of the media during a press conference over the weekend. Emmanuel Acho decides if the Browns are Super Bowl contenders.
The Houston Texans could have asked for Mayfield as part of the Watson package. They didn’t. Then Mayfield let it be known he would welcome a trade to Indianapolis, only for the Colts to say, “No, thanks” and link up with Matt Ryan instead. Then the Atlanta Falcons needed to replace Ryan. They got Marcus Mariota.
Then it was said the Seattle Seahawks were interested, but there has been no action on that front either. The New Orleans Saints re-signed Jameis Winston. The Carolina Panthers appear to be sticking with Sam Darnold. The silence from around the league isn’t so much deafening, it’s just plain sad.
Remember when I said don’t buy into the doom and gloom? Hard not to after the litany of misery we’ve just spelled out, right?
However, as the NFL annual meetings begin this week and teams have a chance to do some (mostly) friendly business in the Palm Beach sunshine, things could be about to get a whole lot brighter for Mayfield.
Something is going to happen because circumstances dictate that it has to. The Browns needed to act when they did to get Watson, but the timing of that deal has robbed them of any trade leverage they may have possessed in regard to Mayfield. That, as much as anything, is why there is an apparent void of interest.
“It’s a unique situation,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters on Monday. “We’ve got to see how it plays out. I think all of us would love an answer yesterday, but that’s not the reality of it. I think everybody understands the situation. We’re hoping that there’s closure to it at some point .”
Cleveland is not going to get a first-round pick in exchange for Mayfield and probably not a lower pick either, primarily because they’ve said to the world that they don’t want him by landing Watson and adding backup Jacoby Brissett. If they don’t realize it already, the league meetings should be a clear wake-up call to the Browns that they’re stuck.
Be sure of this — Mayfield is not a pariah that no one has interest in. It is just that there is far more benefit for teams to wait the Browns out and let their level of desperation increase. For as long as he is around, Mayfield’s situation casts a shadow over the Browns’ wish to move forward with Watson.
Two options are now the most realistic. Either, Cleveland packages Mayfield with a draft pick of their own to get another team to take on his fully guaranteed salary. Or, most likely, they cut him.
If Mayfield does get cut, his narrative and level of enjoyment regarding what’s going on is poised to reverse course completely. At that point he becomes something of a hot commodity, offering the chance to get a QB who has won 30 NFL games and brings playoff experience for a rock bottom price.
With his salary already locked, Mayfield could sign a $1 million veteran minimum contract with any other team and try to rebuild his career. Do you think the Pittsburgh Steelers might relish the chance to stick it to their division rivals with such a plan? Intriguing possibilities abound.
We will know more in the coming days and weeks, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is the end for Mayfield, and that his time in the NFL is on life support. He’s a starting QB. Not an elite one, but more than good enough to find a serviceable situation.
He’s been caught in the middle of the mechanism right now, and it looks, and probably feels, pretty darn demoralizing.
But it’s not, as many seem to think, over. The game is just playing itself out, and the part where the doom and gloom eases is soon to begin.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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