From an outside perspective, the relationship between the Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield appears strained. Mayfield was visibly aggravated after the team's most recent loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which he was sacked no fewer than nine times. Specifically, he seemed frustrated that head coach Kevin Stefanski refused to adjust throughout the game, continually letting his second- and third-string linemen block guys like TJ Watt alone without help. One day after that, Mayfield ended his season by getting surgery to fix his shoulder.
It was a very frustrating season for both sides. Mayfield has one year left on his deal and the Browns will almost certainly not try to sign him to a long-term extension this offseason. Their best option is to see if Mayfield can be the franchise QB in 2022 they believed him to be and move on if not.
But there's always the nuclear option. The Browns have an excellent roster around Mayfield and could plausibly win big if they have an elite quarterback under center. Should both sides decide it's time to move on, this is the offseason to make it happen. The possibility grew more likely last night, when Mary Kate Cabot of Cleveland.com reported Mayfield will consider asking for a trade if things do not improve (transcription via BroBible):
Mayfield’s issues with Stefanski bubbled below the surface most of the season, with Mayfield feeling like Stefanski’s playcalling didn’t always put him in a position to succeed or play to his strengths, sources told cleveland.com.
If Mayfield doesn’t get reassurance that things will change next season, he’ll consider asking to be traded. He’s under contract for $18.858 million in his fifth-year option year, but at this point, it’s uncertain if the Browns even view him as their starter for 2022.
It is far from an outright trade request, but it could certainly end up being the first domino towards that end. If Mayfield does end up on the block, where could he end up? Here are four options.
Hear me out on this one. Russell Wilson may be on his way out of Seattle this summer, but Pete Carroll is too old for a full-on rebuild and the organization doesn't seem very interested in that anyway. They'd like to retool instead of rebuild. If Wilson really wants out, there won't be many better quarterbacks than Mayfield out there to immediately replace him. A swap of signal-callers makes sense for both sides here, which is hard to find when you peruse the possible market for Mayfield. It wouldn't be straight-up, since Wilson is way better than Mayfield, but the structure is there.
New York Giants
The Giants are at an impasse. Joe Judge is publicly embarrassing himself and Dave Gettleman is retiring. An organizational reset would be best for everyone involved, and with it should come a complete roster turnover. If the Giants commit to that, they may be willing to take a chance on Mayfield. Regardless of where he goes, a one-year audition for a new team seems the most likely outcome for Mayfield in 2022. New York is as good a spot as any for that, given they have only a handful of NFL-caliber players on their whole roster and none of them reside at QB. This would happen if the Browns have something else in the works to fix their QB situation, but if Mayfield becomes expendable, he's worth a flier for Big Blue.
Who knows what'll happen with Deshaun Watson, but it remains indisputable that Houston has no future at quarterback. Davis Mills has been a pleasant surprise at times and may even turn out to be pretty good in the long term but his ceiling is Mayfield's floor. With a weak QB draft in 2022, the Texans should be looking under every rock to find their next franchise quarterback and could do far worse than taking a chance on Mayfield. Maybe it is in exchange for Deshaun Watson if his legal issues are cleared up by the offseason. Maybe it's a salary dump after the Browns replace Mayfield. Either way, it makes sense for Houston.
Here's a fun one that will be very difficult to pull off financially but would be fascinating if it came to reality. The Vikings may be moving on from Mike Zimmer and could try to move on from the doomed Kirk Cousins experiment entirely. What better way to do that than to pair him up with his offensive coordinator from 2019 in Stefanski? Cousins had a solid year and certainly made the offense work, as evidenced by the fact that Stefanski got a promotion after the year ended. Minnesota can get a much-needed reset with the potential of finding a long-term answer at QB if Mayfield reaches his potential.