Where do the Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield go from here?

Hopefully, a trade for Mayfield is on the horizon. But, like all break-ups with baggage, things are going to get worse before they get better.

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The last time Cleveland Browns fans saw Baker Mayfield with the team, he was in street clothes watching his team defeat the backups of the eventual AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals 21-16. What fans didn't know at the time was that the last time really was going to be the last time they saw Mayfield as a Brown.

If you haven't been paying to the news in regards to Cleveland's football team over the last several days, Deshaun Watson is the team's quarterback going forward. Sure, it's a dramatic shift from what Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski said on the record during the NFL Draft combine. But, it also felt like a long time coming.

Simply put, Mayfield has been wildly inconsistent on the field while under center for the Browns. That, in part, led to Cleveland finding a way to upgrade the position. Granted, a lot of that can be attributed to injuries last season or Freddie Kitchens not being prepared to be an NFL head coach. But, neither injuries nor Kitchens forced a divide between Mayfield and the locker room or between Mayfield and the current coaching staff. His on-field play, along with his personality and attitude set this breakup into motion.

Clearly, it's been a long time coming for Mayfield to join the quarterback graveyard at 100 Alfred Lerner Way. The Browns have made their bed with Watson and are going to lay in it to try and win a Super Bowl. Cleveland also signed Jacoby Brissett to be Watson's primary backup, all while trading Case Keenum, Mayfield's backup, to Buffalo for a late draft pick and salary cap relief.

But, Mayfield's Cleveland legacy still hasn't been buried and his name hasn't quite yet been added to the comically long jersey fans seem to lovingly hate. For now, Mayfield is still a member of the Browns as both parties go through their awkward breakup. Mayfield still needs to get his clothes and toothbrush he may have left all while the Browns bring in their new fling. Things are a little uncomfortable still and the Browns need to figure out what they're doing with Mayfield sooner instead of later.

Obviously, Mayfield won't be the backup or the third-stringer or even a practice squad quarterback for Cleveland next season. The relationship is too broken at this point to even consider that and the last two options are attempts at comedy more than anything. The only options at this point to finalize the divorce are either trading him or releasing him, allowing him to sign with another team.

For now, the latter doesn't seem doable for a team like Cleveland that's trying to compete for a Super Bowl. Cutting Mayfield would cost the Browns roughly $18 million against their salary cap. For a team looking to bring back Jadeveon Clowney, Jarvis Landry and possibly Odell Beckham Jr. to try and win a Super Bowl, cutting Mayfield isn't a viable option for Cleveland.

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When the Atlanta Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts and then signed Marcus Mariota soon after, the options for Baker Mayfield to start next season dwindled down to one team: the Seattle Seahawks.

That's why the Browns likely have to explore trading Mayfield instead. The former Heisman winner has already asked Cleveland to find him a new team, with his preference being the Indianapolis Colts. But, the Colts just agreed to a deal with the Atlanta Falcons to acquire former NFL MVP Matt Ryan, slamming the door shut on Mayfield becoming a Hoosier transplant. The market further dwindled when Falcons signed Marcus Mariota to a two-year contract and the New Orleans Saints re-signed Jameis Winston.

That means the Seattle Seahawks, who just acquired Drew Lock from the Denver Broncos, are the only remaining, viable path for Mayfield to remain a starter in the NFL. But, even that doesn't seem certain with it being reported that the Seahawks are comfortable rolling into next season with Lock under center. Given how talented next year's group of quarterbacks are in the 2023 NFL Draft, it might sense why Seattle would be comfortable with Lock over Mayfield at the helm.

But, if that's also the case, it means that Mayfield isn't going to be re-shooting his Progressive commercials at Lumen Field either. It also seems that there aren't clearcut paths for him to join a team either. Thankfully, the NFL is a league of opportunities at the quarterback position, no matter how mediocre the latest entry in your body of work can be. It just means that more than anything the Browns will likely have to get creative when it comes to trading Mayfield.

A lot of it will hinge on if they're able to convert his salary into a signing bonus that they can then, in turn, create that into minimal hits on their salary cap. That, and if Cleveland is willing to attach future draft picks to offload Mayfield as well. If Cleveland is able to do either, or possibly both, of those things, then they could have a lot more opportunities in front of them. Teams like the Miami Dolphins and the Houston Texans would be perfect spots for Mayfield. Granted, he would have to compete with the quarterbacks already there. But, if he's fully healthy Mayfield should have a shot and it would likely be at minimal risk for the Browns as well.

If Cleveland wants to stay out of the AFC then teams like the Carolina Panthers, the Detroit Lions, the Washington Commanders and the New York Giants also all make a degree of sense. Again, like the situations in Miami or Houston, Mayfield would have to compete for the starting gig. Also, if he's healthy, he has a leg up on Jared Goff, Carson Wentz or Daniel Jones and could find a way to rehabilitate his perceived image as an NFL-caliber quarterback.

If none of those options come to fruition Mayfield may have to face the harsh reality of being a backup quarterback to a proven quarterback next season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers at one point considered trading for Mayfield before Tom Brady came out of retirement. What's stopping Tampa Bay from acquiring Mayfield as a backup and developing him as the long-term solution in the event Brady finally decides to hang it up?

Mind you, that's just one example and could happen with plenty of other teams as well. Mayfield could take a similar path to Mitchell Trubisky, the newly-signed Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. After four rough seasons in Chicago, Trubisky signed with the Buffalo Bills and looked strong whenever he saw the field. Trubisky capitalized upon his time with Buffalo, along with his natural abilities, to sign a deal with Pittsburgh to try and become their long-term answer at quarterback.

There are plenty of options likely on the table for Mayfield and the Browns to try and wrap up this divorce sooner instead of later. It will probably happen before or around the 2022 NFL Draft but, until then, it's going to feel uncomfortable until something finally happens. When it does, hopefully, Mayfield, the Browns and their fans can move forward from this and remember the good times all while forgetting most of the bad.

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