The Cleveland Browns Ditched Baker Mayfield To Pay Deshaun Watson $230 Million… So Far, That Decision Has Turned Out Poorly

By on October 31, 2023 in ArticlesSports News

The Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayfield had impressed in college at the University of Oklahoma, winning a Heisman Trophy and leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff in his final season. For four years, Mayfield lined up under center for the Browns. His best season came in 2020 when he finished with 3,563 passing yards, 26 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions, and a 95.9 passer rating. The Browns made the playoffs, defeated their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers, and came up just short against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round.

Alas, the good times didn't last, and after a shakier 2021 season, the Browns started looking for other options. They made a massive trade for Deshaun Watson, who was in the midst of more than two dozen lawsuits from massage therapists claiming sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Browns promptly gave Watson a fully guaranteed contract worth $230 million. That same offseason, the team dealt Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers.

Let's see how both players have fared since changing teams.

Deshaun Watson (Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

As a result of the allegations, the NFL suspended Watson for 11 games during the 2022 season. He also had to pay a $5 million fine and complete a treatment program. He returned to the Browns for the final six games of the season and posted the lowest passer rating (79.1) of his career.

This season, Watson has appeared in four games for the Browns, missing multiple contests due to injury. Most recently, he left Cleveland's Week 7 game after going 1 for 5 for 5 yards and an interception, with the team listing a shoulder injury as his official ailment. Even while he's been on the field this season, he wasn't playing great: 673 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 4 fumbles, and an 80.9 passer rating.

Mayfield, meanwhile, played for both the Panthers and the Los Angeles Rams last season, filling in after Matthew Stafford suffered a season-ending injury. His teams didn't fare particularly well (a combined 2-8 in his 10 starts), but Mayfield wasn't playing on very good squads. He finished with a 79.0 passer rating on the season.

This season, Mayfield joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and earned the starting quarterback job. He threw seven touchdowns to just two interceptions in his first four games, and the Bucs started a surprising 3-1. They've fallen back to earth a bit, losing their last three games. Still, Mayfield has had a solid season, with 1,600 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and an 89.5 passer rating. He's also fumbled one fewer time than Watson, despite playing in three more games.

Now, to be clear, Mayfield hasn't been an elite quarterback. And while passer rating isn't a perfect metric, it's one of the best we've got to measure individual quarterback success. Mayfield and Watson's 2022 seasons are basically identical in that regard, and Mayfield has outplayed Watson this season — and has remained healthy.

Cleveland signed Watson to a five-year deal in 2022, so he's still got plenty of time to turn things around. For now, though, this looks like a terrible investment for the Browns.

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