It’s late July, and if you ask Baker Mayfield how he feels about his contract situation, he’s going to tell you the same thing he’s been telling the rest of the sporting world since April.
Winning is what matters most, and the rest will take care of itself, he’ll say. In fact, he said so again Tuesday.
“I’m about winning,” Mayfield said Tuesday, via the Associated Press’ Tom Withers. “And I think everything will play itself out. I’m not worried about it at all because if we win, we’re headed in the right direction.”
Cleveland’s arrow is oriented in a positive direction entering 2021 following the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2002 and first postseason win since the 1994 season. Mayfield is well aware that last season means nothing to the new campaign, of course, and is saying all of the right things about how he and his team will approach 2021.
“We have to start fresh. We have to keep that foundation and build on those blocks we’ve already laid down,” he said. “Nothing is going to be given. We have to go out and work for it. It’s not just going to happen just because we’re the same players, same system. We have to go out there and do our job.”
There’s a good reason for why this topic continues to pop up whenever Mayfield is in front of a microphone. After floating in the abyss of average-or-worse quarterback play for close to two decades, the Browns finally hit on a draft pick spent on a quarterback. That signal-caller was Mayfield, who impressed as a rookie, disappointed in his second season, then rebounded to help the Browns exorcise their postseason demons last year.
Cleveland has security issues when it comes to quarterbacks dating back to Bill Belichick’s infamous decision to release local hero Bernie Kosar. Subjection to mediocre QBs for 19 years only further deepened their insecurities, but with Mayfield in place as the apparent franchise quarterback, fans and local media members see stability at the position for the first time since, well, last century.
They’re eager to see the team respond with a long-term deal that would eliminate concerns about a future filled with instability that haunted the region enough for one fan to create a jersey with a running list of failed quarterbacks. Mayfield proved he wasn’t Johnny Manziel, but what Browns fans don’t want him to become is, well, another LeBron James.
Cleveland would sacrifice almost anything to see Mayfield lead the Browns to a title like James did, but they don’t want to watch him leave, not once, and certainly not twice. An extension would certainly address these concerns.
Mayfield’s agent Jack Mills was quoted this summer as saying he believed “something will be done this summer,” adding he didn’t know if a deal will be completed in that span of time, leaving open for interpretation his idea of “something”. That something could be nothing more than discussions, but as Mills said, Mayfield isn’t looking to drag out negotiations to wait for other quarterbacks to sign extensions first.
Interestingly enough, that might end up being how things play out. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport said Wednesday he wouldn’t be shocked to see Cleveland focus its financial efforts on striking extensions with running back Nick Chubb and cornerback Denzel Ward, fellow members of the Browns’ pivotal 2018 draft class.
“It’s a little more of a wait-and-see approach on Baker Mayfield,” Rapoport said on NFL NOW. “Not that the Browns want to see what they have. I’m just saying there are some other quarterback contracts that get done first. I wouldn’t be surprised, based on what I know, if it’s Baker Mayfield next offseason and the Browns kind of focus their contract talks on Chubb and on Ward this season.”
Cleveland has already picked up fifth-year options on Mayfield and Ward, meaning the Browns at least have the security necessary to wait to sign the two to extensions, as neither is entering a contract year. Chubb, however, is entering a contract year, as the former second-round pick wasn’t afforded the possibility of a fifth-year option. In theory, he’d be first in the pecking order of extensions.
Cleveland has already demonstrated it isn’t afraid to lock up its key players near the end of their rookie deals. The Browns signed 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett to a five-year, $125 million extension a year ago, securing the services of one of the league’s most promising edge rushers. And the Browns have quietly been working toward making such extensions easier to complete, trimming salary in the short term with the release of Sheldon Richardson to create cap space that will likely be rolled over into 2022, when the more expensive extensions start to take effect.
The first of those to have an impact on the cap will be Chubb’s, provided the two come to an agreement. For now, though, it’s all prediction and projection. And until the ink is dry, Mayfield will likely keep fielding the same questions about his own contract — and delivering similar responses.
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