Baker Mayfield Was One Of A Kind And Deserves A Lofty Spot In Browns History

Baker Mayfield's demise had more to do with his falling out with Odell Beckham Jr. than an injury to his left shoulder. (

Baker Mayfield's demise had more to do with his falling out with Odell Beckham Jr. than an injury to his left shoulder. (

Baker Mayfield was one of a kind and deserves a lofty spot in Browns history

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

There was nobody like Baker Mayfield in my time covering the Browns. For better and for worse.

Diminutive like Brian Sipe and brash as Bernie Kosar, Mayfield carried a chip on his shoulder and a grudge in his heart. He was stubborn and immature. He was either liked very much or disliked very much. From beginning to end, that polarizing trait set him apart.

Mayfield lifted the franchise out of the futility of a 4-45-1 stretch and blasted it through historical barriers. He gave hope to a fan base scarred by 12 consecutive losing seasons. He made believers in some preternatural quality he dubbed “feeling dangerous.”

The night he electrified downtown Cleveland by breaking a 19-game winless streak in his first NFL game ranks as an all-time franchise highlight. He was the first Browns quarterback to win in Heinz Field in 16 years and the first to win a playoff game on the road since 1969. Those great feats secure his place in Browns history and will not be forgotten.

Unlike 29 other predecessors at his position in the franchise’s expansion era, Mayfield stared down repeated organizational dysfunction – the obligatory coaching and front-office blow-ups – and made everyone appear smarter.

Until he didn’t.

Beginning of the end

No, Mayfield’s demise was his own doing -- not the result of lack of organizational support or coaching blunders, although coach Kevin Stefanski mismanaged him during a tumultuous 2021 season.

The injury to Mayfield’s (non-throwing) left shoulder last season in Game 2, instigated by the false bravado of a weak tackle attempt, surely affected his game. But a bigger contributing factor, in my opinion, was his inexplicable fallout with extremely popular receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and the debilitating effect it had on Mayfield’s stature in the locker room.

As things unraveled around him, Mayfield increasingly used the injury as a crutch and failed to take accountability for woefully errant throws and season-killing turnovers.

Inactive safety John Johnson’s tweet during the first half of the Christmas Day game in Green Bay – RUN THE DAMN BALL! – was a strong indictment of the defense’s – if not the entire locker room’s – loss of confidence in Mayfield. It was a telling sign that Mayfield’s impudence had worn thin.

In his four seasons, Mayfield threw more people under the bus than befitting the leader of a team.

He questioned Duke Johnson’s professionalism for requesting a trade in the 2019 training camp. He accused the Browns’ medical staff of misdiagnosing a Beckham injury in 2020. He called Myles Garrett’s helmet swing on Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph in 2020 “inexcusable” in a post-game interview and predicted “he’s gonna get suspended.” When things went south, he lamented Stefanski’s waning confidence in him with conservative play-calls. He indirectly criticized iconic offensive line coach Bill Callahan for not giving rookie right tackle James Hudson help in blocking Pittsburgh’s game-wrecking pass rusher T.J. Watt.

Mayfield defiantly said he would be the one to decide if he played following the shoulder injury. At the end of the year, after his last terrible game against Pittsburgh, he said that he and his family would “look at what’s in the best interest for me and my health.” 

He opted out of the last game, without consulting the coaches. Teammates, particularly on defense, were not pleased.

In the end, Mayfield had virtually no advocates in the building. Stefanski was not even quoted in the team’s official release of the trade of Mayfield.

The best the Browns could do

Despite the official post-season statements by GM Andrew Berry that the Browns expected Mayfield to return after shoulder surgery, the most damning quote of the Mayfield drama was reported by ESPN’s esteemed insider Chris Mortensen. He cited an unidentified source as saying the Browns wanted “an adult” at the position.

Owner Jimmy Haslam later denied being the source of the quote, though he noted Mayfield believed it to be him. That quote absolutely sealed Mayfield’s exodus.

After the Browns moved the stars and the sun to trade for and sign Deshaun Watson, they had very little leverage in trade talks for Mayfield. Trade discussions with the Carolina Panthers on draft weekend blew up when the Panthers and Browns couldn’t agree on how much of Mayfield’s $18.858 million guaranteed salary for 2022 would be divided among the teams.

Talks continued through the OTA and minicamp season. Ultimately, all parties collaborated to make a deal happen.

The Browns agreed to eat $10.5 million of Mayfield’s salary. The Panthers agreed to pick up $4.85 million of Mayfield’s salary. Mayfield agreed to about a $3.5 million reduction, which he could earn back if taking 70 percent of Carolina’s offensive snaps in 2022.

That threshold also would improve the compensation to the Browns from a fifth-round pick in 2024 to a fourth-round pick. A source told me this was essentially the same deal discussed on draft weekend.

The turning point, per the source, was Mayfield agreeing to the paycut and the Panthers' desperation to getting Mayfield acclimated into their offensive system prior to training camp. 

In the end, the Browns saved $8.3 million in salary cap space for 2022, which ups the Browns’ space to close to $50 million. That’s quite a comfortable cushion and could come into play IF the Browns have to add a quarterback in the event of a Watson suspension.

Mayfield now will engage in a training camp competition with Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft, in which Mayfield was over-drafted as No. 1 by the Browns. Mayfield should have no trouble beating out Darnold for the starting job.

And that would set up a delicious opening weekend matchup between the Browns and the Panthers, with Mayfield wearing Carolina blue in his first NFL game of his post-Browns career against a Browns team seeking to end an 18-year -- 18 year! -- non-winning streak in season-opening games.

While Mayfield no doubt will carry his grudge into that meeting, I believe the Browns’ defense might have their own score to settle with the quarterback who cost them a spot in the AFC playoffs in 2021.

Mayfield and I certainly had our confrontations over four years. But I give Mayfield credit for one thing. He didn’t play favorites. He disliked everybody in the media. I’ve never seen a player like him.

He could have owned the Cleveland market. Instead, he polarized it.