Editor’s word: This was initially revealed Could 5 and has been up to date after Wednesday’s information the Browns have traded Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers.
BEREA, Ohio — The NFL draft got here and went, and quarterback Baker Mayfield was nonetheless a member of the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns could not swing a commerce with the Carolina Panthers on the time, and in response to a number of sources, by no means obtained shut. As talks intensified through the second spherical, sources mentioned Carolina needed Cleveland to pay a good portion of Mayfield’s assured $19 million wage subsequent season. The Browns balked and Carolina traded up into the third spherical to draft Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral.
The commerce talks resumed this offseason and Mayfield was traded to the Panthers on Wednesday in alternate for a conditional draft decide, a supply confirmed to ESPN. The Panthers can pay $4.85 million of Mayfield’s wage whereas the Browns can pay $10.5 million. The deal is pending a bodily.
In 2018, Mayfield arrived in Cleveland, a metropolis that has been trying to find a franchise quarterback for the reason that Bernie Kosar period of the 1980s, with huge fanfare. However after quarterbacking the Browns to their first playoff victory in 26 years in 2020, his standing with the entrance workplace and locker room declined. Struggles on the sphere, a messy break up with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. that divided the workforce, quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s willingness to waive his no-trade clause to affix Cleveland, and a perceived slight from the Browns’ entrance workplace all contributed to successfully finish Mayfield’s time in Cleveland, pushing either side to hunt a recent begin.
In March, the Browns traded for Watson. Since March 16, 2021, 25 lawsuits have been filed in opposition to Watson, alleging sexual assault and different inappropriate conduct throughout therapeutic massage classes. Of these 25, one was dropped by the plaintiff when the choose dominated her petition needed to be amended with her identify. Twenty of these civil fits, lawyer Tony Buzbee mentioned, have been settled. 4 stay and they are going to be tried after the 2022 season. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on legal fees, however the NFL has been pushing for a suspension of at the very least a yr. Watson’s listening to earlier than the NFL and the NFL Gamers Affiliation’s collectively appointed disciplinary officer, Sue L. Robinson, completed after three days final week. There isn’t any timetable for Robinson’s determination. Watson mentioned he has “by no means assaulted, disrespected or harassed any girl” and that he had deliberate to combat the lawsuits earlier than most of them had been settled.
In final season’s opener in opposition to the Kansas City Chiefs, Mayfield appeared just like the passer who had completed the 2020 season ranked No. 10 in QBR. The Browns scored touchdowns on their first three possessions earlier than lastly arising quick on Mayfield’s game-ending interception.
However in Week 2 in opposition to the Texans, Mayfield suffered a torn labrum in his left — non-throwing — shoulder.
After that, he was by no means the identical.
Mayfield accomplished 82% of his passes in his first two video games final season, the perfect price within the NFL. The remainder of the way in which, whereas carrying a harness to maintain his left shoulder in place, Mayfield’s completion price fell to 57.7%, second worst within the league.
His QBR tumbled to 27th, the most important QBR drop-off (-30.4) of any passer from the 2020 season, in response to ESPN Stats & Data analysis.
By his advertising and marketing agent, Mayfield declined to talk to ESPN in regards to the 2021 season or his exit from Cleveland. However through the “YNK” podcast revealed April 13, he mentioned the shoulder harm affected him mentally, in addition to bodily.
“When it began hindering my play and going downhill, that is after I was like, ‘Oh s—,” Mayfield mentioned on the podcast. “That is after I began dropping my very own self-confidence and simply dropping myself. This previous yr was tough.”
Following a 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 31, Mayfield’s season would get even rougher. And behind the scenes, his future in Cleveland would progressively change into tenuous because the Browns quietly started exploring a possible substitute.
Hours earlier than the Nov. 2 commerce deadline, Beckham’s father posted a video on Instagram highlighting all of the instances final season Mayfield did not throw Beckham’s method, or missed him when he was open. Odell Beckham Sr. trashed Mayfield within the feedback as nicely.
OBJ did not disavow his father’s feedback publicly, and he did not name or textual content Mayfield privately, in response to a number of sources, though that they had usually performed video video games collectively and had vacationed in Large Sky, Montana, with teammates on Labor Day weekend.
The Browns launched Beckham on Nov. 5, clearing the way in which for him to signal with the Los Angeles Rams, with whom he’d go on to win a Tremendous Bowl.
Beckham, a former star with the New York Giants earlier than becoming a member of Cleveland in a blockbuster commerce in 2019, had change into some of the fashionable gamers within the Browns’ locker room.
Throughout his first coaching camp with Cleveland, Beckham took undrafted rookie receiver Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi underneath his wing. Earlier than Cleveland’s 2019 preseason opener, Sheehy-Guiseppi misplaced his cleats, so Beckham gave him his, which Sheehy-Guiseppi wore whereas returning a punt 86 yards for a landing. When Sheehy-Guiseppi was later minimize earlier than the season, he posted a heartfelt message about Beckham on social media.
That very same coaching camp, Beckham carried over a customized from New York, sitting with completely different teams of gamers at every meal within the cafeteria.
“You have to get to know who you might be battling with,” Beckham mentioned then of the custom. “When the whistle blows, it is simply us on the market. These are guys … you will ceaselessly keep in mind and cherish.”
The COVID-19 pandemic restricted how a lot teammates might work together within the follow facility over the subsequent two seasons. However Beckham would proceed to ask teammates over to his home to take no matter garments or sneakers they needed from his sizable closet.
After Beckham’s father ripped Mayfield publicly and hypothesis grew about Beckham being on his method out, a number of gamers lobbied for Cleveland to maintain OBJ on the workforce.
“I really feel like the vast majority of this locker room would like to have him on this constructing,” security John Johnson III mentioned then. “Flat out.”
As one supply put it, the way in which Beckham exited Cleveland “poisoned the nicely” for Mayfield with some teammates.
Shortly after Browns coach Kevin Stefanski introduced Beckham would not be coming again, one other starter was requested if he’d seen the video Beckham Sr. had posted of Mayfield misfiring on throws to his son. “Why would I watch the video?” the participant requested rhetorically, in response to a supply aware of the comment. “I see it day by day in follow.”
On the time of Beckham’s launch, Cleveland was already trying into Watson, who was on the Texans’ lively roster however did not play in 2021. Normal supervisor Andrew Berry mentioned as a lot throughout Watson’s introductory information convention on March 25.
“It was by way of this actually five-month odyssey, and data that we had been in a position to amass and the reference work, and clearly working by way of due course of and the authorized course of, that obtained us comfy pursuing the commerce for Deshaun,” Berry mentioned then of the workforce’s investigation into Watson.
Because the Browns started contemplating Watson as an choice, Mayfield continued to battle.
On Christmas Day, after rejoining the Browns from the reserve/COVID-19 record, Mayfield threw 4 interceptions in a loss at Inexperienced Bay that diminished Cleveland’s playoff hopes. After Mayfield’s second interception, Johnson, who was again in Cleveland on the reserve/COVID-19 record, immediately tweeted, “RUN THE DAMN BALL.”
Regardless of the turnovers, the Browns nonetheless had an opportunity for a successful drive late within the fourth quarter. However Mayfield was picked off once more, sealing the loss. Cleveland can be mathematically eradicated from the postseason earlier than taking part in one other recreation.
“I harm this workforce,” Mayfield mentioned then. “It was simply missed throws. There isn’t any excuse.”
As Mayfield was dropping confidence in himself, he had additionally begun dropping religion in Stefanski, in response to a number of sources, though the 2 had thrived the yr earlier than throughout Cleveland’s sudden playoff run.
That feeling escalated the subsequent week, on Jan. three throughout a Monday Evening Soccer recreation in Pittsburgh. In what proved prone to be his ultimate begin for the Browns, Mayfield was sacked 9 instances. Afterward, he referred to as out Stefanski’s recreation plan.
“Once you’ve obtained [NFL defensive player of the year] T.J. Watt over there, and we’re not giving our rookie sort out [James Hudson] an entire lot of assist, it is not going to be good for us,” mentioned Mayfield, who at one level had thrown 10 consecutive incompletions within the 26-14 loss.
As Mayfield labored by way of a listless efficiency, the Browns stored him in to the ultimate offensive play, which was an interception.
Based on a number of sources, these near Mayfield — who to that time had missed one recreation due to his shoulder harm — questioned on the time if the Browns had been making an attempt to make Mayfield look as hapless as attainable in prime time, to doubtlessly pave the way in which for the franchise to extra simply clarify why it could be transferring on from him within the offseason.
The Browns, by way of a spokesman, declined to touch upon these suspicions.
After the Pittsburgh loss, Mayfield advised reporters he can be conferring together with his household and agent — not the workforce — about whether or not he would play within the season finale in opposition to Cincinnati.
“I am an especially aggressive guy,” he mentioned then. “Now it is time for me to start out taking a look at what’s in the perfect curiosity of me and my well being.”
Mayfield had grown annoyed together with his state of affairs in Cleveland over time, in response to a number of sources. He was the fourth quarterback in league historical past to play for 4 completely different head coaches in his first three seasons. The Browns picked up the fifth-year choice on Mayfield’s contract on April 23, 2021, however even after the playoff win, the workforce avoided participating Mayfield’s camp on extension talks final offseason, in response to a number of sources. It was a sign to Mayfield that the workforce was not sure he was their long-term reply at quarterback. Since final offseason, Berry has repeatedly declined to touch upon Mayfield’s contract standing.
Nonetheless, the Browns entered this offseason ready to maneuver ahead with Mayfield.
“We absolutely anticipate Baker to be our starter,” Berry mentioned in January, “and bounce again.”
Regardless of the turmoil of 2021, Mayfield had recommitted to the Browns as nicely.
Sources described his exit interview with Stefanski as productive, and Mayfield’s rehabilitation from a Jan. 19 surgical procedure to restore the labrum was forward of schedule. After Cleveland traded for vast receiver Amari Cooper on March 12, Mayfield reached out to him to start planning a throwing session collectively.
On the mix in February, Berry knowledgeable Mayfield’s agent the Browns might pursue an All-Professional-caliber quarterback, like Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, in response to a supply aware of the dialog. Mayfield’s camp was additionally conscious Cleveland’s quick record might embody Watson. When a Harris County grand jury in Texas declined to pursue legal fees in opposition to Watson on March 11, the Browns went all-in to get him.
However what upset Mayfield much more, in response to a number of sources, was discovering out over social media on March 15 that Stefanski, Berry and Browns house owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam had been flying to Houston to fulfill with Watson. Earlier than the Browns officers had landed again in Cleveland, Mayfield posted a letter on social media thanking town of Cleveland and its followers “who actually embraced who I’m.”
He would later say on the “YNK” podcast that he felt “disrespected” by the Browns.
“I used to be advised one factor,” he mentioned, “they usually fully did one other.”
However the ultimate straw for Mayfield, in response to a number of sources, got here on March 16, when ESPN NFL insider Chris Mortensen mentioned he believed Mayfield’s time in Cleveland was over and that he was advised the Browns needed “an grownup” at quarterback.
The following day, Mayfield requested a trade. The day after that, on March 18, the Browns landed Watson, signing him to a five-year deal price a file $230 million, absolutely assured.
“Opposite to what’s on the market within the press, we predict extremely of Baker and didn’t get down on him,” Jimmy Haslam mentioned on a video name with the media following Watson’s introductory information convention. “[I know] Baker felt that [“adult” comment] got here from possession, however that is not true. Baker gave it all the things he had whereas he was right here.
“No person can query his effort this previous yr, and no person can query the 4 years he gave to town of Cleveland.”
It has been a chaotic journey. And it has now reached its finish.