There have been lots of people asking me questions about the realistic options on the table when it comes to what the Browns can do with Baker Mayfield this offseason. Let us look at the three choices they have and the knock-on impact from each of them.
He has now finished his third season and is eligible for an extension. He is currently under contract for $10,569,130 in 2021. Also this offseason the Browns front office needs to decide if they want to give him his full guaranteed fifth-year option worth $18,749,000 according to Over The Cap.
Option 1 – No 5th Year Option
The Browns could decide that they don’t want to give Baker a fully guaranteed deal worth nearly $19m for the 2022 season that they hold off of doing this and allow him to play out his final year on the deal. They have potentially two franchise tags they can use on him after this season if they want to force him to stay around.
The issue with this strategy is there there is no succession plan for Baker Mayfield currently on the roster. So unless you are planning to trade up in the draft and add a quarterback this year then you are going to give him at least one more season. The 5th year option is going to be much cheaper than the 2022 franchise tag so it makes no sense.
If Mayfield had played the whole 2020 season the way he played the first six games then I think we could be realistically looking at this route. He would have been on par with Carson Wentz and that isn’t a quarterback you want to be betting the future of your franchise on when you have so many young promising players.
Option 2 – 5th Year Option & No Extension
Once the Browns activate Mayfield’s fifth-year option they are committed to just over $29m, fully guaranteed in the next two seasons between his fourth year and fifth year.
If they aren’t 100% sure that Mayfield is going to be an annual top 10 quarterback in the NFL for the next six seasons then they could decide to wait another year before committing to him long term. They still have two franchise tags they can put on him after his rookie deal so there is no hurry in rushing to an answer for the long term.
I investigated this last offseason when looking at if teams took the correct decision when extending their rookie quarterbacks. Being good isn’t enough when all quarterbacks are getting deals only slightly smaller than that of Mahomes, Watson & Wilson. You need to be great/elite to compete year in and year out for Super Bowls on a veteran deal.
This would be a very rational approach to take. We have seen Goff & Wentz moved on with the two largest dead cap hits in NFL history this offseason before either played a single snap of their new extensions signed after their third season.
Option 3 – 5th Year Option & An Extension
The Browns could decide to go all-in on Baker this offseason and activate the fifth-year option and extend him. It would likely be a four-year extension and I broke down here what the deal would look like earlier this offseason.
– 4-year deal
– $136 million in new money
– $110 million guaranteed
– $23 million signing bonus ($4.6m)
– $22.7 million option bonus in 2022 ($4.54m)
– $19.8 million option bonus in 2023 ($3.96m)
|Year||Age||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Roster Bonus||Cap|
With his current fourth season and 5th-year option, he is getting just over $29m over the next two seasons before the extension. The extension will allow you to backload that money and create an extra $8m in salary cap space during the 2021 & 2022 season which is incredibly useful due to the pandemic lowering the salary cap.
If you decided you wanted to trade Baker off after the two years existing years like Goff/Wentz and did it before his 2023 option bonus kicks in then you would be left with just under $32m of the dead cap on the books. You can pair that with the saving of $8m you made in those first two seasons with backloading you are talking about a $24m risk on the extension if it goes bad. The new team would pay Baker around $21m in 2023 for the first year they have him so would be a very reasonable deal with no long-term risk for them so incredibly tradeable.
These are the three options on the table for the Browns Front Office when it comes to Baker Mayfield this offseason. Let’s throw Option 1 out the window because it isn’t realistic anymore. Both Options 2 & 3 are incredibly reasonable. It is something they are no doubt debating at the very top of the franchise.
If there was no pandemic impacted salary cap in 2021 then I would likely be writing this article saying how option 2 is the right course of action. Let us watch Baker repeat his performances of the final two-thirds of the season in 2020. Then even if we end up paying the extra $2-3m a year then it is worthwhile compared to being left with a $24m bill if you want to move on after the fifth-year option above.
There is a danger of waiting though. If Baker remains a good quarterback and you extend him then that cost goes up every year as deals tend to be closely tied to the value of the salary cap as you can see here on Over The Cap. The $136m/4 deal is working off the 2020 salary cap and Baker costing 17.15% at the time of signing. If he plays better than that % could rise to 18.6% where Wilson is or 19.7% where Watson is. The salary cap could also move, it was expected to be in the $210m-$215m range in 2021 as the Bills GM reiterated this week.
Let’s look at a few tables to see what waiting could mean, the left side shows the average per year of the deal as % of the salary cap at the time of signing. The numbers across the top are the salary cap with what it was in 2020, what it was expected to be in 2021, and then what we might realistically project for 2022/2023 if we return to normal. The numbers in the boxes are the total value of four-year quarterback deals.
This table is why I am fully in favor of extending Baker Mayfield this offseason. If he becomes the player he showed in the second half of the season then we could be talking about a $167.5m/4 deal in a year’s time rather than one at $136m/4 we could potentially do now. Yes, there is risk there but I would say it is worth being aggressive when the upside is this large compared to the downside is a $24m loss if we need to move on from him before he plays a snap on his new deal.