With news of a possible filing of the 25th and 26th civil suits against the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Deshaun Watson spreading on social media, rumors of a potential trade for the Browns’ former star quarterback, Baker Mayfield, cast a dark cloud on Cleveland’s upcoming season. However, amidst the doubt and despair felt by Browns fans, there is always a chance the Browns’ risky contract with Deshaun Watson will pay off in future seasons.
The Carolina Panthers have been at the forefront of the recent trade rumors for Baker Mayfield. Minicamps began for both teams this week, but the Panthers will have to decide whether the importance of practice time at minicamp outweighs paying Mayfield’s $18.86 million salary. So far, neither the Panthers nor the Browns seem eager to fork out the majority of Mayfield’s salary, leading many to believe that a trade may not come to fruition this summer.
If trades fall through for Baker Mayfield, he may not be too excited about playing back-up to Watson. Mayfield has openly stated that he feels disrespected by the franchise and that their relationship has suffered so much that it is “too far gone to mend.” On the other hand, the NFL’s investigation into Watson’s ever-increasing civil suits is ongoing despite NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement that the investigation was “nearing the end.” Although the first lawsuit against Watson was filed before the Texans traded him to the Browns, Watson’s contract with the Browns guarantees Watson $230 million over five years, making Watson’s contract the highest guarantee ever given to an NFL player.
Now, all is not lost for the Browns. Let’s say the Panthers do trade for Mayfield. This means the Browns will likely have had to pay out a substantial amount of Mayfield’s near-$19 million salary but received some substantial draft picks in return. On top of this, Watson faces potential suspension from the league before any of his civil suits even see their day in court. Even so, the Browns have reportedly been sticking with their most expensive and controversial quarterback, likely due to a special clause in Watson’s contract. As Ian Rapoport reported, if Watson were to face suspension during the upcoming season, only his base salary of about $1 million for 2022 would be affected. Although there is no telling how long Watson’s suspension would last (if even given a suspension), many expect it to last multiple games, some even questioning a full year. Whatever the case may be, if Watson is back on the field and plays to the same caliber that brought him a $230 million fully-guaranteed contract, the Browns may start to see some return on their riskiest investment yet in addition to any draft picks from a Baker Mayfield trade. Only time will tell how much payoff the Browns-Watson contract will bring, but much is up in the air for the 2022 season.
Kate Rosenberg is a J.D. candidate for the Class of 2023 at Texas A&M University School of Law. She can be reached at @Katerosey1 on Twitter.