At the start of Baker Mayfield’s third season, the question had to be asked: “Will the Browns move on in 2021 if losing continues?”
Mayfield’s play during the 2020 season greatly altered the equation. He took Cleveland to its first postseason game since 2002 and first playoff win since 1994. The former No. 1 overall pick set career-bests in quarterback rating, ESPN’s QBR, and touchdown-to-interception ratio, showing off a matured game in new coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense. Instead of an impending cut, Mayfield may have earned himself a chance at a future extension with the Browns.
Here’s what you need to know about Mayfield’s current contract, the timeline on exercising his fifth-year option and what an extension for the former Oklahoma star might look like.
Baker Mayfield contract details
Mayfield was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, an honor which brought with it a four-year, fully-guaranteed deal. Over the course of the contract, Mayfield is due to be paid $32.862 million, much of that in signing and roster bonuses. Through the 2020 season, the Browns owe Mayfield approximately $5 million still between a 2021 roster bonus and 2021 base salary.
Mayfield’s cap hit during the 2020 season was $9.003 million, and it’ll rise to $10.569 million for the 2021 season. The approximately $10 million in dead money that would come with cutting Mayfield before the 2021 season may have looked reasonable before his third year with the Browns, but he surely won’t be getting cut, now.
More pressing for Cleveland at this point is whether it chooses to exercise Mayfield’s fifth-year option (for 2022), sign him to a long-term extension or do neither and ride out his fourth year with nothing locked up beyond 2021.
When do the Browns have to decide on Baker Mayfield’s fifth-year option?
The Browns have to decide on Baker Mayfield’s fifth-year option relatively soon after the 2021 league year begins in mid-March. The dates have not been set in stone yet, but normally the decision point is sometime at the end of April/very-early May.
Choosing to exercise Mayfield’s fifth-year player option would keep him in Cleveland not just for the already-guaranteed 2021 season on his contract but also through the 2022 season governed by the option.
The value of a fifth-year option for a player taken in the top-10 picks is the average value of the current top-10 quarterback salaries. That means a fifth-year option for Mayfield, boosted by Patrick Mahomes’ huge extension in the offseason, would be for more than $30 million.
If the Browns choose to exercise Mayfield’s option and not extend him longer, they may then be looking at franchise-tagging Mayfield for the 2023 season at a cost inching even closer to $40 million. And going down that path sets up an even more expensive franchise tag possibility for 2024.
Cleveland could instead be looking at a contract extension for Mayfield that avoids the slippery slope of future franchise tag dollar values but also gets Mayfield what he might feel is fair market value. It’d be risky for Cleveland to go into May 2021 declining Mayfield’s fifth-year player option, because letting the QB get to the open market might leave the Browns without anyone solid at that position in 2022.
What could a Baker Mayfield contract extension look like?
Mayfield’s potential contract extension will depend a lot on timing. An unexpected Super Bowl run could boost his perceived value. An extension signed by another quarterback, say Dak Prescott, could also reshape the QB contract market.
That being said, Mayfield isn’t as sure a thing as some of the recent quartebacks to sign extensions. Of course he won’t be getting Mahomes money, but he probably doesn’t deserve Deshaun Watson money, either, especially after COVID-19 altered the league’s economy a bit in 2020.
In Sept. 2020, Watson signed a four-year extension worth $160 million over the course of the deal, an average of $40 million per extension year. In April 2019, at the age of 30, Russell Wilson signed a four-year extension for $140 million of new money, $35 million per extension year.
What Mayfield will have going for him is age: He’ll play the 2022 season at 27, and a four-year extension, for example, would take him just through his age 30 season. Because of that, he could very well seek a five- or six-year extension.
As of Jan. 2021, 10 quarterbacks have an average annual value of $30 million on their contract. Jimmy Garoppolo’s extension, signed in Feb. 2018 with the 49ers to lock up his age-27 and beyond seasons, had an average annual value of $27.5 million. Don’t expect Mayfield to go for any less than that, and even with a pandemic, a few year’s worth of inflation is likely.
If Cleveland truly believes Mayfield is the face of its franchise, it’d be hard-pressed to extend him for less than $30 million per year, and if Mayfield’s play in the second half of 2020 is any indication, he may have most of the power at the negotiating table to seek another year. It wouldn’t be shocking for the Browns to give him five-plus years and/or more than $30 million per year.
Extending Mayfield isn’t without risk, of course. But Kevin Stefanski seems to have unlocked the right offense for Mayfield, and that amount of money is just the going rate for quarterbacks these days. Browns fans probably wouldn’t want to add to that very long list of bad quarterbacks to have played for the franchise since it was reborn in the late-90s. Locking up Mayfield, whatever the cost, may be the best option.