When the Browns and Panthers held trade talks regarding Baker Mayfield during the draft, the AFC North team was not believed to be willing to pay much of its former starting quarterback’s salary to move him. Cleveland may be coming around.
The teams picked up talks recently, and the Browns are now prepared to pay more of Mayfield’s fully guaranteed $18.9MM salary to facilitate a deal. The team has moved to the $9-$10MM range, Albert Breer of SI.com said during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show (video link). This still does not meet the Panthers’ asking price, Breer adds. It is unclear where the sides are on draft compensation, but rumblings continue to emerge about Mayfield finally changing teams.
During the teams’ draft talks, the Browns were not far beyond the $3MM mark here. Carolina was believed to want Cleveland to pick up at least $13MM of Mayfield’s salary to sign off on a deal, creating an impasse that led to Mayfield-to-Charlotte buzz cooling. By not reaching the Panthers’ price point, the Browns are betting on the Panthers — they of a quarterback room headlined by Darnold and Matt Corral — meeting their terms to ensure a better QB1 option arrives weeks ahead of training camp. Urgency has surfaced on Carolina’s side, though Matt Rhule said that was not the case. The game of chicken persists.
The Panthers (and Seahawks) can continue to force the Browns to carry Mayfield’s salary on their books, but Cleveland — thanks in part to structuring Deshaun Watson‘s contract in a way to minimize the financial penalty the embattled QB would endure if/when suspended — has a gargantuan cap-space lead on the rest of the NFL. As of Monday afternoon, the Browns hold more than $42MM in cap space. No other team possesses $26MM.
If the Browns cut Mayfield, they could end up owing more than $17MM — thanks to offset language in his rookie deal. Although some executives expect the Browns to finally cut bait, they have maintained throughout the offseason that will not happen. By going through minicamp with their oft-scrutinized QB setups, the Panthers and Seahawks gained extended looks at their in-house options. But Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo, whose March shoulder surgery clouds his trade market until at least July, remain available. As long as that is the case, Carolina and Seattle’s QB situations will continue to generate attention.