Baker Mayfield Went From Most Coveted QB To NFL Journeyman | Shannon Sharpe Says “He Goes Into The Season As A Backup”

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

When word surfaced that Cleveland was in heavy pursuit of Deshaun Watson and willing to give up the farm for him, former starter Baker Mayfield caught feelings. First, he told the fans goodbye, before a trade was even announced for Watson. Then he demanded a trade.

It was a typical reaction from a guy who obviously wasn’t communicating with the front office and wasn’t bringing the winning vibe to the situation that the organization needs.

If he had the proper offseason discussion with the team, then he would have at least been aware that they would pursue Watson and he would have demanded a trade much earlier or facilitated his way out of the door as the team would surely help him in finding a new destination. He could have saved some face as well, considering his pride is important to him. 

Mayfield is a serviceable quarterback, but he’s never passed for more than 3,827 yards in a season and has a career passer rating of 87.8. He’s had more than his chance to prove that he’s an elite QB. 

When Cleveland had the opportunity to secure a game-changer like Watson — despite his current legal entanglements — they leaped at the opportunity, giving him a record $230M guaranteed and then unloaded a haul of future draft capital for the dual-threat dynamo (2022 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick, a 2024 first-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round pick in exchange for Watson and a 2024 fifth-round pick). 

It was a straight indictment on how they felt about their former No. 1 overall pick. A brutal admission that they made a mistake. The move is in no way an indictment on Mayfield’s future. This is a good opportunity to see what he’s made of. How he handles these next six months will go a long way towards determining what kind of future he has in the NFL. 

From Most Coveted To

According to the talking heads, however, with the flurry of veteran quarterback signings and the musical chairs that we have witnessed with NFL quarterbacks (highlighted by a sharp migration to the AFC) the team pool is drying up for Mayfield, who insists that he’s a starter. 

Mayfield told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday: “It’s in the mutual interest of both sides for us to move on.” 

We didn’t need Baker to tell us that. Once Watson arrived it was a wrap. But it also shows you how delusional Mayfield can be. Always overestimating his worth. Now his best-case scenario is to battle fringe guys like Sam Darnold and Drew Locke for starting positions on bad teams. 

“I think he’s a guy who can start for somebody, but I don’t see a spot where he goes in as the anointed starter,” said NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck and I don’t think that should be a huge surprise. It’s hard to find those chances and oftentimes your best chance is to go somewhere where there is a starter who’s had some struggles of his own and wait for that guy to get hurt or fail to get your opportunity” 

Reportedly, the Panthers have no interest in Baker, according to FS1. Baker’s preferable landing spot was supposedly the Indianapolis Colts, who just picked up Matt Ryan.

” I think it’s more likely that he goes into the season as a backup quarterback.” Shannon Sharpe said on Tuesday’s “Undisputed” episode. “And maybe somebody performs badly, and he comes in … Or somebody gets dinged during the season, and he takes over the starting job. I been racking my brain to find a landing spot where he can come in and be the starter.”

Past Catching Up 

Mayfield was a ball of controversy and a coveted talent after winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and establishing a reputation as a brash gamer who led by example on the field and rubbed some folks the wrong way off of it. 

Less than a year before Baker Mayfield became the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2018 NFL draft, he was arrested for running from the police in a drunken stupor that left him with a speed knot and some embarrassment. 

As a Heisman Trophy candidate for Oklahoma, his transgressions were reasoned away as “college kid stuff.”

He also grabbed his crotch and yelled expletives to Kansas fans after a nationally televised game. 

Despite all of that, the controversial Mayfield got the white privilege pass. The Cleveland Browns chose him No. 1 overall. They gave him the reins of the franchise after going 1-31 with head coach Hue Jackson at the helm.

Promising Start 

Mayfield had some early success and definitely gave the NFL reasons for optimism, considering the talent the Browns had assembled around him. Some even considered them Super Bowl contenders once they signed Odell Beckham Jr. 

However, Mayfield’s lack of communication skills reared its ugly head again, as he feuded with his star wide receiver, the media and anyone else who criticized him, while battling injuries, the pressure to transform a losing culture and living up to his top billing. As the years passed, Mayfield’s inconsistency and questionable leadership led to him losing his luster as other young quarterbacks rose up the food chain and secured franchise contracts.

That playoff success never came.

Starting Again: Walking the Walk   

The fall from grace has got to be tough for Mayfield, whose entire portfolio coming out of college was boosted by privilege and excuses for his shortcomings.

Whereas most Black quarterback talents would be highly scrutinized and probably even drop in the draft, Mayfield’s “character issues” and red flags were ignored by scouts and despite being undersized, was still chosen No. 1 overall in what was considered at the time to be one of the greatest crops of first-round quarterback talent in history.

Five quarterbacks were chosen in the first round, with Lamar Jackson being the last pick by the Baltimore Ravens. 

Jackson has since won an MVP and is considered one of the most electrifying players in the history of the sport. Josh Allen is a Pro Bowl quarterback and has the Buffalo Bills franchise on the brink of something special. Mayfield has had more success than Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold who are destined to be career backups, but his four-year trail run with Cleveland ended unceremoniously and now he’s looking for work. 

Such is the way of the NFL. Mayfield is down, but that doesn’t mean he’s out. Let’s see if he can muster the humility to start over and earn himself a place among the elite quarterbacks of the game. 


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JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.