The Cleveland Browns might want to comply with Baker Mayfield's trade request, after all. Mayfield reportedly lost part of the locker room after receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was released in November.
It was a crucial season for Mayfield, who was hoping to receive a long-term deal from the Browns after building on the success he experienced in 2020. Those dreams were dashed early, as Mayfield sustained a shoulder injury that hindered his play the entire season.
Mayfield's on-field play took a dip due to the injury, but — more importantly — his stature in the clubhouse took a hit over the Beckham incident, according to Jake Trotter of ESPN.
That incident came to a head in early November, after Beckham's father posted a video complaining about Mayfield not throwing Beckham the ball on plays where he was open. A few days later, Beckham was released. He eventually signed with the Los Angeles Rams, and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Beckham was reportedly well liked in the clubhouse, and his release didn't sit right with some of the players on the team, per Trotter.
After Beckham's father ripped Mayfield publicly and speculation grew about Beckham being on his way out, multiple players lobbied for Cleveland to keep OBJ on the team.
"I feel like the majority of this locker room would love to have him in this building," safety John Johnson III said then. "Flat out."
As one source put it, the way Beckham exited Cleveland "poisoned the well" for Mayfield with some teammates.
When asked about the video posted by Beckham's father, one teammate told Trotter, "Why would I watch the video? I see it every day in practice."
Beckham reportedly was kind to teammates. He took undrafted rookie receiver Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi under his wing during training camp. Beckham also sat with different position groups during meals to form bonds with the rest of his teammates. He also invited players over to see if they wanted any clothing in his closet.
Beckham did not contact Mayfield privately following the video. The two were close prior to the video posted by Beckham's father. They played video games together and went on a trip with other teammates.
As the Beckham situation unfolded, Mayfield continued to try and play through his shoulder issue. It didn't go well. The end of the season was particularly rough, as Mayfield threw four interceptions against the Green Bay Packers in Week 15 and finished out his season with two more interceptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. Some close to Mayfield reportedly wondered whether the Browns were trying to make Mayfield look bad those final weeks in order to justify seeking his replacement.
Baker Mayfield in tough spot after Deshaun Watson acquisition
The Browns found their next quarterback in March, trading for Deshaun Watson. The team made the deal, and gave Watson the most guaranteed money in NFL history, despite Watson facing 22 civil lawsuits accusing Watson of varying degrees of sexual misconduct. A grand jury declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, which resulted in the trade getting done.
Watson was able to play for the Houston Texans during the 2021 NFL season, but did not see the field at all. Watson asked for a trade from the team before the civil lawsuits came to light.
Upon learning the Browns were pursuing Watson, Mayfield sent out a social media post thanking Browns fans and talking about his uncertain future. When the deal for Watson was uncertain, Mayfield told the Browns he wanted to be traded. The team told Mayfield they would not honor that request. The Browns were able to convince Watson to come to Cleveland, giving them both Mayfield and Watson heading into the 2022 NFL season.
In a normal situation, it would make sense for the Browns to deal Mayfield. Watson, however, could still face a suspension from the NFL based on what its investigation turns up. The fact that a grand jury declined to indict Watson has no impact on the NFL's decision. The league still has the power to issue a suspension.
That could put Mayfield in an even more awkward position in 2022. He may have to start for the team he desperately tried to leave and a locker room that may still be upset over Beckham's exit.