The day after Baker Mayfield took some pointed jabs at Duke Johnson on the first day of Browns mandatory minicamp, I asked coach Freddie Kitchens if things were OK between the two teammates.
“Yeah, I don’t know why they wouldn’t be,” Kitchens said.
I said there seemed to be an unhealthy back-and-forth between them.
“No, they are fine,” Kitchens said. “I appreciate you asking, though.”
- Johnson publicly and emphatically pronounced his desire to be traded because he felt GM John Dorsey showed his cards by trying to trade him (unsuccessfully) and believes Dorsey eventually will trade him when Kareem Hunt is reinstated from league suspension.
- Mayfield took exception to Johnson stating his feelings and called out Johnson to live up to his word to be a professional and do his job.
If Mayfield was agitated with Johnson’s comments, Johnson was downright furious with Mayfield’s. The last two days of minicamp, however, there was no discernible sign of tension between the teammates on the practice field.
On Thursday, Michael Silver of NFL Network reported:
“It is rather striking for a player to get involved in a teammate’s business in anything but a supportive role. Baker Mayfield is the clear leader of that team, but … I’m told by multiple sources that several veterans came up to him in the locker room after those comments about Duke Johnson and let’s just say voiced their displeasure, saying, ‘Listen, it’s one thing to be a leader but this is a guy who’s going through something, it’s business, and we need to support him.’ Baker may not have agreed with them, but he heard them. So that is something to keep an eye on as a very, very talented team gets ready for what could be a very big season.”
- If Silver’s report is true, it’s good that some of the veteran players set Mayfield straight. Mayfield is embarking on just his second NFL season – his first as the undisputed team leader. He is still learning the do’s and don’ts of life in the NFL. He doesn’t know it all. If anything, it’s a sign of the vets’ respect for Mayfield that they didn’t enter this imbroglio publicly but sought to coach him up privately.
- On one hand, Johnson’s frustration is understandable. He does not want his season and his life disrupted by a mid-season deadline trade, a la Carlos Hyde. He feels a trade is inevitable when Kareem Hunt fulfills the terms of reinstatement from league suspension. Dorsey’s unfortunate “not yet” comment when asked if Hunt’s acquisition made Johnson expendable ignited this whole thing, in my opinion. Johnson would rather be dealt now to avoid a lost season, but he is at the mercy of Dorsey and has little leverage to force a trade.
- On the other hand, Johnson may not get much sympathy in the court of public opinion. In exchange for giving up free agency, Johnson received close to $6 million in 2018 as a result of a three-year contract extension he signed that June. Further, his 2019 salary of $1.8 million was also fully guaranteed on March 15, according to Spotrac.com. That’s almost $8 million to suck it up and be a good soldier and not undermine a franchise-changing season for the Browns.
- I don’t see Dorsey caving and granting Johnson his wish and trading him – or releasing him – prior to Hunt fulfilling his reinstatement obligations. Unless the market changes via an injury to another back on a contender.
- Summer recess provides a convenient cooling-off period. When everyone returns, Dorsey and Kristin Campbell – Johnson’s agent – should have a meeting of the minds to forestall any angry rhetoric. Meantime, Campbell should put the kibosh on further incendiary Twitter rants from her rapper husband, Luther, aka Uncle Luke of 2LiveCrew.
- The ball remains in Johnson’s court. If his frustration escalates, his one recourse in forcing the issue is to become a squeaky wheel and pressure Dorsey to give him the grease. My gut feeling is that Johnson would not choose that path.
- Ultimately, Mayfield could save the day by mending fences with Johnson – if he hasn’t done so already. It would be a true act of leadership to admit he was wrong.