After two days of brief trade talks, the Carolina Panthers officially took themselves out of the Baker Mayfield pursuit Friday. Now the Cleveland Browns are forging ahead on a path that could keep Mayfield on the roster for much longer than anticipated.
The Panthers and Browns had discussions about Mayfield on Thursday and Friday, but the two sides never got into the same zip code on a deal. Sources from the two teams said talks broke down over a range of factors, from mismatched trade assets, the final split of Mayfield’s $18.8 million salary, and at one point, a complication with Mayfield’s contract that needed to be reworked and approved by the NFL before any trade could have been consummated.
Even when it sounded like a deal was getting traction Friday, it never got close enough for both sides to align trade assets — mostly centered on draft picks — let alone dig deep into how Mayfield’s guaranteed money would have been divided. By the early evening, one source involved in the talks termed any hope of a deal “dead.” A short time later, the Panthers traded into the third round to draft Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral.
Interestingly, Carolina did significant work on Corral in the pre-draft process and was monitoring him during the entirety of Friday’s draft. Once Corral slipped into the third round and talks with the Browns broke off, the Panthers began working the phones to find a trade partner so they could move into position to select him.
Carolina picking Corral put the Browns back onto a track of patience — which now may stretch through the rest of the offseason and potentially into next season.
That’s one of the dwindling options Cleveland has to embrace, given the lack of interest in Mayfield from the few remaining quarterback-needy teams. As it stands, the Browns have little motivation to release him, since his salary is already guaranteed for 2022 and there’s still a looming NFL investigation over Deshaun Watson. Mayfield also has little motivation to buy his way off the roster, which would likely take him significantly reducing his salary and then hoping to make some of the money up in a miniature free agency before training camp.
But there’s no indication that other teams would step up and offer Mayfield a starting job at this point. Especially after the conclusion of a draft and free agency, which has given most teams a multitude of other options as they move ahead. If Mayfield is looking for an ironclad shot at a starting job, his interests might actually align with Cleveland’s at this stage — waiting until another NFL team needs an experienced starter, for whatever reason. That also would mean Mayfield and the Browns move ahead together from this point on, waiting for the opportunity to present itself.
It was there briefly with the Panthers, even if the two sides never got into realistic trade territory. Now it’s gone, and the Browns have to figure out what comes next. And that’s starting to look like the same path of watching, waiting and hoping for something that makes sense for everyone.