Some Thoughts on Baker Mayfield and the Browns

Recently there has been more speculation about the Browns situation with QB Baker Mayfield. Josina Anderson had a good tidbit on the Browns line of thinking that they can slow play the situation

Many seem to imply that Mayfield has leverage over the Browns here because of the presence of Deshaun Watson and the fact that Mayfield has a fully guaranteed $18.858 million salary that they need to get off the books. The feeling is that Mayfield can somehow control his destiny somewhat because his presence will make for too many distractions for the Browns.

One of the things to keep in mind, however, is that time is actually on the Browns side. The salary is already guaranteed so it’s not as if cutting him lets them escape it. They are not pressed for salary cap space and his money is already in that number. It is not like the Matt Ryan situation in Atlanta where there is a looming date that forces a decision.

The Browns already know what trade market does and does not exist for Mayfield and they should have a strong idea as to how much of the salary teams are willing to pick up in a trade.  As teams get further into training camp sometimes they get more desperate especially if an injury occurs (see the Vikings spending a high draft pick on Sam Bradford a few years ago). Because teams also discount future picks so much they may be able to justify sending a higher 2023 pick versus a higher 2022 pick for Mayfield.

The other important thing to consider is that Mayfield can not just go out there and blow the team up in an effort to get traded or released, unless he wants to risk losing his salary in the process. Guaranteed salary is guaranteed until a player does something that would allow a team to void the guarantee. Just because a player is on a guaranteed option year doesn’t mean that the void provisions vanish in a contract. Per the CBA:

Upon exercise of the Option, the above-described guarantees shall be subject to the terms and conditions of any pre-existing individually negotiated non-compensation term in year four of the player’s contract relating to the forfeiture of guarantees (also referred to as “void provisions” in this Subsection for the sake of convenience), to the extent permitted in 43 Article 4, Section 9(g) (“Voiding of Guarantees”). In addition to applying to the previously non-guaranteed amount in the fourth League Year of the player’s contract, the year-four guarantee void provision shall be carried forward to, and shall be applicable to, the player’s Paragraph 5 Salary in the fifth League Year of his contract (the “option year”) unchanged except to the extent necessary to effect the enforceability of such provisions (e.g., without limitation, changes regarding the applicable contract year of such provisions and the amount of the year-five guarantee). Any such changes shall be deemed to have been automatically made effective upon the Club’s exercise of the Option.

While I do not have the particulars of Mayfield’s contract language, standard blanket language would generally void guarantees include refusing to practice and suspension for conduct detrimental.  Many often have clauses related to being publicly critical of a team that can void a guarantee. In addition Mayfield can rack up hefty fines were he to not show up to camp this year- $40,000 per day missed and $1.048 million for every preseason game missed.  

The point is Mayfield likely has to be a model citizen if he wants his $18.8 million salary to remain guaranteed and he likely needs that salary to be guaranteed if he wants to receive it. Right now he is not a player that can go the scorched earth route taken by an Aaron Rodgers type of player. Those players will get paid from another team the minute they were released. Mayfield likely fall in the range of Mitchell Trubisky and Marcus Mariota which means he would be putting somewhere in the ballpark of $10-12 million at risk if he was thinking of just breaking up with the Browns.

Any type of breach would give the Browns a get out of jail free card with Mayfield especially if they know the trade compensation is going to be low and/or require them to eat millions in salary. All it requires is a bit of patience on the Browns part to wait and see how the situation plays out if they can not find a trade partner leading up to this year’s draft.