Don't Ruhle It Out -- A Baker Mayfield Trade Scenario.

The Baker Mayfield era is over in Cleveland.  The "in Dorsey we Trust" mantra has receded far into the background in Cleveland and rival NFL teams are not forming a line to trade for Baker and his $19 million guaranteed salary for the 2022-2023 NFL season.

Early reports were that at least one NFL team wanted a mid-round draft pick from the Browns just to take on Baker's salary.   It is now speculated that, at best, the Browns will have to take on most if not all of Baker's $19 million salary to get a late-round draft pick in return.  In fact, there is a ever-increasing risk as time passes that the Browns may have to release Mayfield and eat all $19 million guaranteed under the fifth-year option that they exercised.

There was at least one reporter (Ian Rapoport) who presented a scenario where Baker could remain on the roster and play this season for the Browns.  With Watson facing an almost certain suspension from the NFL, Rapoport believes that Mayfield could start for the Browns at the beginning of the season while Watson serves his suspension.  

With the tension between Baker and the Browns, that is a recipe for disaster.  While guiding the Browns to a winning record to start the 2022 season could be the best course for Baker to rehabilitate his value as a free agent for the 2023-2024 NFL year, I do not think the Baker's personality or the locker room dynamics allow for Rapoport's scenario to become a viable one.

Considering the limited number of teams that might be interested in Mayfield at this point (Seattle, Carolina, Detroit), the Browns need to think creatively.

Here's a trade idea:

The Browns trade Baker and the Browns' 2022 seventh-round draft pick (acquired in the Case Keenum trade) to Carolina.  Carolina sends Sam Darnold, defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and a conditional seventh round 2023 pick (that can become a sixth round pick) to the Browns.   

In this trade, the Browns eat none of Baker's salary.  Instead, the Panthers agree to eat $5.5 million of Darnold's salary.   

Sam Darnold and Matt Ionnidis in orange and brown?

Why would the Panthers want to make this trade?

The Sam Darnold experiment in Carolina started off with a bang and ended in a whimper.    Despite the strong start, Darnold went 4-7 with 13 interceptions over 11 starts in an injury-shortened first season with the Panthers. The party line is that there is some “belief in the organization” that Darnold, at only 24 years of age, will take a step forward in 2022.  Even if Matt Ruhle and company believe that, it is a hard sell to the Carolina fans who booed Darnold last season upon his return from injury.  

While I expect Carolina to draft a quarterback, this class does not present anything close to a sure thing or NFL-ready quarterback.   At minimum, the Panthers will need a bridge starter for the 2022-2023 season. Darnold is all they have.

The proposed trade would allow the Panthers to bring Mayfield into Bob McAdoo's quarterback-friendly offense and see if Baker can recapture some of the magic of his rookie season and 2020 second-half.  The Browns' agreement to take Darnold back in the trade allows Carolina to acquire Baker without carrying $40 million against the cap to roster two flyer-level bridge quarterbacks.   

The Panthers would only give up Matt Ioannidis, whom they signed to a one-year $5.9 million deal as a free agent this offseason.   

The bottom line is that instead of having Darnold on a one-year guaranteed $19 million contract, Carolina would spend $24.5 million ($19 on Baker and the $5.5 million they would eat on Darnold) for one year of Baker's services.   If Baker hits, Carolina has the option of signing him to a new contract or franchising him before the rest of the NFL gets the chance.  Even if Baker hits and signs with another team, there is the possibility that he yields a 2024 compensatory draft pick for Carolina.   

The swap of draft picks also allows the Panthers to accelerate a late pick in this year's draft in exchange for a late round pick in next year's draft.

Why would the Browns want to make this trade?

Of course the viability of this trade depends what Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski think of Darnold's potential.  

Darnold has some physical traits that make him a scheme fit for Stefanski's offense once it is re-jiggered to maximize Watson's skill set.

Darnold has prototypical quarterback size.  He has an average to above-average NFL arm.   His ability to throw on the run, make things happen with his feet, and mobility within the pocket were thought to be strengths coming into the 2018 draft that made Darnold a candidate for the number one overall selection.

Darnold is not DeShaun Watson.  Physically he is more comparable to Watson than Jacoby Brissett, however.   

The near best case scenario is that Watson receives a four-game suspension from the NFL to begin the 2022 season.   

In 2021, while learning a new offense, Darnold ran off to a 3-1 start to the season.  Sure, the three wins came against less-than-stellar NFL competition (Jets, Saints, Texans).  However, Darnold threw for close to 300 yards a game in the first four contests (279 v. NYJ, 305 v. N.O, 304 v. TEX, 301 v. DAL).   In these four games, Darnold's QBR hovered around 100 and he rushed for five touchdowns while throwing five touchdowns to three interceptions.

Carolina lost all-purpose running back Christian McCafferty to a hamstring injury in the Texans win.  Absent McCaferty, and suffering a head injury himself, Darnold struggled over a five-game stretch until he suffered a fractured scapula to his throwing shoulder in a forgettable game against the Patriots in November.  

If Watson were suspended four games and the Browns were 3-1 when he returned, fans would be doing back handsprings down Euclid Avenue.   

If Watson were suspended six games and the Browns were 3-3 when he returned -- well, that's probably around what we would realistically hope to land.   

Do we believe Brissett would do better?

Brissett lost the first four games that he played last season for Miami against Buffalo, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.  He helped guide the Dolphins to two wins against Baltimore and Houston, but those wins seem to have taken placed despite Brissett's efforts -- not because of them:

Thu 11/11vsBAL
Sun 11/7vsHOU

This trade does not have to feature Darnold as Watson's immediate back up to work.   

Assume the Browns do exactly what most pundits say is expected -- they agree to eat $8 million in Baker's salary and get a sixth round draft pick in return for trading Mayfield.   The upside (over the trade proposal above) is that the Browns save $2.5 million more against the cap ($8 million instead of the $5.5 million that the Panthers would eat on Darnold's contract), acquire a fifth or sixth round pick and get to keep their own seventh-round pick this year.   

Late round picks are going to have trouble sticking on this roster.   The Browns still need immediate defensive tackle help, which they likely will not get drafting in the last two rounds of this year's draft.  Accordingly, a chunk of that $8 million the Browns would save off of Baker's salary would likely have to go toward more help from free agency at the defensive tackle position or the Browns would need to invest their premium picks at the position.

If Watson begins the season on suspension, the Browns also need a capable back-up to serve behind Brissett for the period of suspension -- whatever that might be.  That's maybe one or three million dollars to carry a guy like Nick Mullens -- unless the Browns want to completely punt the season if Watson is suspended and Brissett is injured early in the year.

Matt Ioannidis is a guy that fits what the Browns still need as a rotational defensive tackle.  He is signed to a one-year $5.9 million deal with the Panthers.  He was a cap casualty with Washington and someone I thought might be worth a late-round pick to acquire.  Although his veteran status might mean that he has "no-trade" status, the Browns offer a better chance to win and can likely extend him another year to guarantee more salary to convince him.  

Ioannidis is a better option at the defensive tackle position than the Browns are likely to acquire outside of the second round of this year's draft.   In my opinion, the Browns are currently in need of two strong rotational-quality defensive tackles to add to the room because of the departure of the "Maliks" and Jordan Elliot's disappointing development to date.    Because the Panthers are eating $5.5 million of Darnold's salary (in the even swap of Mayfield and Darnold's fifth-year contracts), the Browns are basically getting Ioannidis without a significant added cap hit.   By avoiding cutting Baker and absorbing his full $19 million guaranteed salary, they would be acquiring Ioannidis for a real cost of around $400,000.   Acquiring Ioannidis in a trade would also allow the Browns to look for pass catchers and edge rushers in the first two rounds of this year's draft if there is not a defensive tackle that they covet available when they are on the clock.

The pie-in-the sky scenario is that the combination of Kevin Stefanski's offense and an upgrade in offensive talent around Darnold keep him healthy and allow him to win some games for the Browns and become a future asset as well.   It could be through a mid-season trade due to another team's quarterback injury.  It could be in the form of a compensatory pick in the 2024 NFL draft if Darnold's career is resurrected to the point where another team is willing to sign him next season to NFL starter money (Trubisky and Mariotta achieved this without playing significant snaps).   Or it could culminate in Darnold becoming a longer-term back up quarterback in Cleveland behind Watson if the Browns like him and other options do not become available to him in the offseason.

Finally, through the proposed trade the Browns move Baker to the NFC for this season.   Even if the Browns are not afraid of Baker, if he's cut, picked up by Pittsburgh, and beats a Brissett-led Browns team early in the season (the Steelers give the Browns a contest even with Mason Rudolph under center) the early-season optics will not be good.

I see this hypothetical trade as a win-win for both teams.   Carolina gets a potential upgrade this year at quarterback for $5.5 million additional dollars against their cap.  They avoid running out a guy for the NFL opener that the fans booed upon his return from injury last season.  

The Browns avoid potentially getting nothing for Mayfield while still having to eat his salary.   That something is a good rotational defensive tackle and a lottery ticket at getting Darnold back on track as at least a replacement-level quarterback.

If this trade were made, it would need to be made by draft day considering the pick exchange and to allow the quarterbacks maximum time to acclimate to their new team's offense.  

Getting nothing but dead money against the cap in return for a quarterback that Dorsey (foolishly) picked number one overall in the 2018 draft would be depressing.   

Without this type of a trade, I think the Browns are left with Seattle as the only trade partner and end up eating almost all of Mayfield's contract for an inconsequential pick.

John Dorsey gave Andrew Berry a lemon.  Let's see if he knows how to make lemonade.

Don't Ruhle It Out -- A Baker Mayfield Trade Scenario. Don't Ruhle It Out -- A Baker Mayfield Trade Scenario. Reviewed by AT Dawgger on 10:54 AM Rating: 5

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