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Armando Salguero: Baker Mayfield Rehabilitation Could Best Come As Someone’s Backup

The rehabilitation of Baker Mayfield is underway, but this rehabilitation doesn’t refer to his work to get back from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder or the workout he had Wednesday with receivers Cole Beasley and Danny Amendola in Texas.

This is a rehab of reputation.

Mayfield badly needs it right now because his team, the Cleveland Browns, paid a ransom for Deshaun Watson to replace Mayfield and will introduce their new starting quarterback to the media Friday.

That will push Cleveland’s incumbent quarterback into the shadows, seemingly forgotten because he is a failure whom his team replaced.

To make things worse for Mayfield, he got slimed by anonymous sources on ESPN before the Watson trade was done, and it was such green, gloppy sludge that it effectively portrayed Mayfield not just as a bad quarterback but as an immature child.

This is a rough situation. The Browns decided Mayfield is not “an adult” at quarterback, that somehow got leaked on national television, and now the team wants to peddle him off on another team in a trade.

And Cleveland would love for the other team to pay Mayfield the $18.858 million he’s due in guaranteed salary in 2022 as a fifth-year option.

Good luck with that, Brownies.

This is how this is going to play out:

Maybe the Browns find a trade partner because someone is always looking for a quarterback they believe they can develop into a star. Just ask Josh Rosen.

But whatever team steps forward is going to require the Browns to swallow a significant chunk of Mayfield’s contract. And this trade would likely not involve significant compensation in return.

So this is a fire sale because the Browns and Mayfield took a match to the situation before the Watson deal was ever made.

But …

Though it looks like a terrible situation for all involved, it’s actually a grand opportunity for all involved.

Consider:

Mayfield has been unable to convince anyone he’s an elite quarterback in his four NFL seasons. And that’s a problem because he was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 draft, and quarterbacks are selected in that slot to take a franchise to the Super Bowl.

(Think Joe Burrow down the road in Cincinnati).

But even if Mayfield hasn’t lived up to his draft status, there’s no telling whether he might. Someday.

He’s going to turn 27 soon and he’s going to get healthy — which he was not last year — and maybe when those things happen and he escapes the rough years he had with the Browns in 2018 and 2019, he can begin to look more like the guy who played in 2020.

Remember 2020?

The Browns, which had not had a winning season since 2007, had an 11-5 record that year. And they went to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. And they won a playoff game for the first time since the 1994 season.

And they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh in that playoff game, which had never happened.

That all happened with Mayfield at quarterback. No one complained about his maturity then.

Bernie Kosar is the closest thing the current generation of Browns fans have to an elite quarterback. And he told the Akron Beacon Journal this week he believes in Mayfield.

“For me, and I think for the fans, too, there’s a lot of thinking about the now, but we had one win before he came, and we had the No. 1 pick for a reason,” Kosar said. “And for him to take us to the situation where we actually last year were 8-9, which is one of the better records this century for our team, and we were disappointed, to take us to the playoffs, to win at Pittsburgh in a playoff game, when it hasn’t been done in Browns history, we have to be honored and respect something like that.

“Hopefully everybody, when things calm down, we really look at that and remember that aspect of him, and I absolutely wish him the best going forward.”

Bernie, by the way, is the best. Just the best.

And he believes Mayfield is redeemable.

So where does Mayfield land once his reputation recovers a bit?

— The Atlanta Falcons need him but can’t really afford him unless the Browns pick up the tab.

— The Houston Texans could afford him, but didn’t want him included in the Watson trade, so they’d have to be playing some sort of ninja, three-dimensional chess to come back and trade for him now. Plus they like Davis Mills.

— The Seattle Seahawks could use Mayfield and are often tied to him because they’ve got Drew Lock as their current starter after trading Russell Wilson. That move would again require the Browns to pay most of Mayfield’s salary.

— It could be argued the Carolina Panthers should be in this mix, but they’ve shown zero interest.

My idea is different.

I think Mayfield should make himself available to go to a team as a backup. That would mean agreeing to a pay cut instead of demanding his $18.858 million.

But that would give Mayfield an opportunity to get on a good team and into a good situation. And that may be what he needs — time behind a playoff caliber team’s star quarterback so he can get coached up and rehabilitated in a winning atmosphere.

It worked for Ryan Tannehill when he was jettisoned from the Miami Dolphins to be Marcus Mariota’s backup in Tennessee.

It worked for Mitchell Trubisky last year when he sat behind Josh Allen and suddenly, after throwing all of 8 passes, he sufficiently intrigued the Pittsburgh Steelers into making him their presumed starter for 2022.

Mayfield would benefit from that type of situation.

It would help rehabilitate his reputation.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

5 Comments

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  1. an “adult” at QB….. So, get a serial sex offender?? Makes sense.

    As a Redskins fan, I’d take Baker or Wentz any day of the week. Bring him in, let him beat out Wentz and then send him packing..

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