Idiots say: “Nobody wants Baker.” Astute observers say: “NFL owners are pissed at the Browns for giving Deshaun Watson so much guaranteed money.”
Baker Mayfield’s contract calls for $18.9 million for the 2022 season. And that is less than half of the $40 million that the Vikings are paying Kirk Cousins. ($35 million of which is fully guaranteed.) Is Kirk Cousins twice as good as Baker? No. In 2020, when Baker had two arms at his disposal, he ranked at #10 in QBR while Cousins came in at #18. (In case you don’t know, QBR is a modern, analytical measurement, taking into account more variables than passer-rating.)
Compared to other QBs, you could make a case for Baker being a bargain. And yet, Andrew Berry can’t find a trade partner to save his life. When even the lowly Carolina Panthers won’t take Baker, you know that something is up. Some people think that Berry is asking too much for Baker, but it is more likely that the Browns have been blackballed by franchise owners who resist guaranteed contracts for players.
NFL owners are loathe to go the way of the NBA, MLB, or NHL. They are capitalists trying to keep a lid on their labor costs. And they likely view the Browns as traitors; communists even, dealing a fatal blow to the profitable status quo.
What happens next? Do the owners acknowledge the inevitable, shrug their shoulders, and meekly start paying out guaranteed money to their top players? Maybe. Or do they do the equivalent of union-busting, and hire goons to massacre the labor organizers and bury them in shallow graves?
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but make no mistake, the Haslams did not make any friends with their Watson acquisition. And if I were Deshaun Watson, I would be suiting-up with every available article of body armor in the equipment manager’s arsenal. It is not impossible that there will be a bounty on Watson’s head once the season begins. After all, there is precedent. Remember “Bountygate” when the New Orleans Saints paid bonuses for injuries inflicted on opposing players?
Paying Baker is the least of the Browns’ worries. Perhaps if they released him, it would be viewed as a peace offering by the owners. Right now, the owners are probably thinking: “Those fuckers brought guaranteed contracts to our oligarchical paradise, and now they want us to take Baker off of their hands? Fuck that. Let them twist in the wind.”
The Browns did trade Troy Hill to the Rams, and made a bunch of draft-pick trades last week, so perhaps they are not totally blackballed. But I think it’s safe to say that nobody is going to help them out of Baker’s contract, and the Browns should be mentally prepared to pay Baker every penny he is under contract for.
Ideally, the Browns would make up with Baker and let him compete for the job in training camp. That would be The Greatest Show on Football Earth over the summer. And considering that Watson might end up suspended, or knee-capped, or both, it’s not a bad idea to keep Baker around. Of course, $18.9 million is pocket-change to the Haslams, and there is no reason why the situation shouldn’t be resolved in short order.
Baker might profit from getting paid to ride the bench for a year in that his body will get a good, long rest. I think Watson said the same thing about his year off being restful. If Baker wants to play anywhere but Cleveland, I suppose he could rescind his contract, and then test the QB market. If starting from zero, I imagine a number of teams would bid for his services, and some attractive options might develop. Giving up $18.9 million is a big deal, but maybe not for Baker who makes about $10 million per year in endorsements. If he stops playing, that amount might drop. I’m sure that letting the Browns off the hook turns Baker’s stomach, but he could look at it as a sunk cost.
Maybe they split the difference. Baker gets a check for $9.4 million from the Haslams, and walks away a free man. In order to break even, he only needs his new team to sign him for $9.4 million, which seems doable.
My guess is that Baker is eager to play. With his left shoulder healing up, and his right shoulder with a huge chip on it, he must be raring to go. If that’s the case, then he shouldn’t let the Browns put him on ice.