It’s hard to go through an NFL news cycle without hearing about Baker Mayfield and speculation about what happens to the former Cleveland Browns quarterback. Mayfield remains on the Browns’ roster despite the acquisition of Deshaun Watson, his own trade demand and a dearth of available QB talent in the league.
Looking at the backup quarterback situation in Detroit, it’s easy to argue that the Lions should be interested in Mayfield. Further connecting the dots in Detroit, former Browns general manager John Dorsey — the man who ranked Mayfield the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft — resides in the Lions’ front office as a Special Assistant to General Manager Brad Holmes.
For a Lions team that has long-term uncertainty at starting quarterback with Jared Goff entering a breakthrough season and short-term insufficiency at backup positions with Tim Boyle and David Blough, the waves are carrying Mayfield across the lake. Erie from Cleveland to Detroit keep lapping on the shore.
Let’s dive into these waters of Mayfield…
I’ll say this before the first toe even steps into the pool: I’m a Baker Mayfield fan. Covering him for Browns Wire from the pre-draft process to his first playoff victory since 1994 — in Pittsburgh without a head coach, no less — I saw what the good Baker Mayfield is capable of. This Baker Mayfield has a higher ceiling than you would reasonably expect for Goff.
Lions fans who remember how Matthew Stafford struggled with an injured finger in 2016 will understand the impact of an injury that affects the ability to throw the ball properly. As a reminder, these Lions were 9-4 when Stafford suffered a right-hand middle finger injury against the Chicago Bears. Stafford had a 20/5 TD/INT ratio and over 67% completion rate at the time of the injury. In the last four games (he suffered a finger injury early against Chicago), the No. 9 threw three touchdowns against five interceptions and made only 60% of his throws. Three of his four worst games of the season came as Stafford valiantly tried to play.
He failed, of course. These Lions went from leading the NFC North with four games left to barely sneaking into the playoffs. They were summarily whipped by the Seahawks in a playoff game where a still-injured Stafford had a very bad game.
Now stretch that over half a season and replace the finger with a torn labrum and a broken humerus in the non-throwing shoulder for Mayfield. That’s what plagued the Browns quarterback last season. While Stafford was praised for fighting bravely through his debilitating injury, Mayfield was and remains in Cleveland, widely reviled for it.
Why so many of the Browns faithful were so quick to turn on Mayfield says a lot about the quarterback. We’ve written volumes about it at Browns Wire, but here’s the long story for those outside the 216 area code. Baker Mayfield isn’t afraid people won’t like it. Not just fans, but teammates and coaches. And that makes him a very hard sell as a potential teammate and leadership figure.
These cold waters are definitely dampening the Lions’ enthusiasm for acquiring Mayfield. Then there’s the icy question of Mayfield’s current contract. Cleveland chose the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, a move that fully guarantees Mayfield $18.9 million in 2022. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Detroit isn’t paying $18.9 million for a backup quarterback, period. Certainly not when they’ve already pledged to pay Boyle $1.75 million in guaranteed money to hold Goff’s clipboard. The Lions are not parting with absolutely any assets to acquire Mayfield and what remains of his contract.
If (when?) the Browns are forced to waive Mayfield and he goes through the claims process, that’s when the Lions can start having a conversation about bringing him in in a way realistic in the den.
Mayfield is hard to impose on a team in the midst of a cultural revolution like Detroit. His inconsistent play throughout Mayfield’s four-year NFL career leaves a plethora of questions about his true quality and just how much he can be given the keys to a franchise. It’s a rogue wave waiting to come.
As I noted above, his upside, high-end game is better than what Goff offers. Still, Goff is a safer bet to hit his ceiling, especially with the improved weaponry around him like the Lions have added this offseason. Adding a volatile, needy and divisive presence like Mayfield in the locker room doesn’t help Goff. It doesn’t help Dan Campbell either.
The time for Detroit to consider Mayfield is after the 2022 season. At this point, it seems highly unlikely that another NFL team will pay Mayfield beyond the coming year. If the Lions decide they need to leave Goff, Mayfield should be one of the main options. But before that time, this ship must remain at sea.