Mayfield might have to forgo money to gain his independence in order to enable a trade out of Cleveland.
Get rid of the idea that there will be a reconciliation between Baker Mayfield and the Browns. It’s sheer speculation that the Browns will look to Mayfield to help them get through however long the likely Deshaun Watson suspension lasts. In March, the Browns did the math. They recognized that acquiring Watson would entail destroying the bridge with Mayfield. It’s done and dusted. However, Mayfield is still an employee of the Browns, and even though there is an interested party in Carolina (and a slightly interested party in Seattle), if both parties really wanted the trade to go through, it would have been completed by now.
The wage has long been a source of contention in Carolina. Panthers owner David Tepper has stated that he will not pay Mayfield’s $18.85 million guaranteed salary this season. I doubt he’d even pay half, especially when he pays the same amount to Sam Darnold. If Mayfield really wants to leave, he has the option of taking a wage cut. One source described the proposal as “a lot of pride to swallow.” The Panthers are used to quarterbacks taking pay cuts to arrange trades. They only did it a little more than a year ago.
In 2020, Teddy Bridgewater initially agreed to a three-year, $63 million contract. Although they spent $24 million in Year 1, the Panthers were released before to the 2021 NFL Draft. In exchange for helping to negotiate a trade out of Carolina, Bridgewater consented to a hefty wage cut. In exchange for a sixth-round pick, the Panthers shipped Bridgewater to the Broncos and agreed to pay the majority of his 2021 contract. Bridgewater would have received a base salary of $17 million under the previous agreement and a base pay of $20 million the following season. Bridgewater’s contract was changed, losing the last year, and his compensation was decreased to $11.5 million. More over $7 million of money was paid by Carolina.
Mayfield might take a similar action. In exchange for sending the Browns a Day 3 draft pick, he could reduce his basic salary to the low teens, have them cover the most of it, and have the Panthers pay the remaining $4 million to $6 million. With this, the Browns would receive some of their money back, Mayfield would leave Cleveland, and the Panthers would have a starter quarterback.
If this occurs, I believe a contract may be completed by the end of next week, once minicamps and OTAs are over. The Browns don’t want this to linger until training camp, where Mayfield would be required to report. As much as Cleveland wants to keep Mayfield for greater pay if another team’s starter gets hurt during camp, having this unnecessary distraction go on as they deal with their acceptable distraction of Watson isn’t how they would like the camp to go.