The question that I hear most when I discuss Baker Mayfield is this- "Who are you going to bring in that is an improvement?"
Now I definitely think that the Browns will be looking for an upgrade, the question is are the players available that would be an upgrade and if so would the cost be oppressive?
I would imagine the Browns would talk to Green Bay about Aaron Rodgers and to Seattle about Russell Wilson but talk is likely about all as the cost is likely to be massive and while I'm not sure about the contract of Rodgers, I know Wilson does have to approve a trade should there be any deal for him.
I would consider a big buy-in for DeShaun Watson under normal conditions but with his status still unknown for 2022, missing an entire season, and the price that Houston would want is still large enough that a Watson swap would be a huge swing that could be a home run or a strikeout that could affect the Browns for a decade.
The Browns could draft a quarterback but this isn't a strong quarterback draft and I'd think that they would be more likely to spend a third or fourth-round pick on a sliding quarterback that perhaps they could go in that direction more than use their first or second-rounder on a "quarterback of the future".
So it's most likely that the Browns (should they do anything at all) to trade for a veteran or sign one as a free agent.
If the Browns decided to make a trade, it is likely that they are trading for a replacement for Mayfield, and should they sign someone, Cleveland will likely go with Mayfield with the idea of the signee backing Mayfield up but could push for the starting job in camp.
In the free-agent market, there aren't many options that you would say are clearly better than Baker Mayfield but there are a few interesting players that may be cheap options to at least challenge Mayfield.
Mayfield constantly rambles about how he lives on challenges etc, so perhaps a challenger may get the best of him in a training camp battle.
The options aren't guaranteed upgrades but they wouldn't cost any capital either.
It depends on if you want to try to get a year or two from an aging veteran, gamble on a bounce-back from an injury, or give a once-highly thought of player a second (or even third ) chance.
The stop-gap veteran pool isn't very deep with Ryan Fitzpatrick (39) having played only one game before a season-ending injury with Washington in 2021, Andy Dalton (34), and Cam Newton (32) having struggled in their playing time last season, and everyone's favorite stop-gap that never seems to make through a season in Tyrod Taylor (32) rounding out that bunch.
Should Andrew Berry decide to try the once-highly touted but disappointing that could use a second chance division, there are some interesting players but none that would take the job from Mayfield before the ink was dry on an agreement to Cleveland.
The most interesting to me is Jameis Winston, who is still only 28 and has the type of big arm that I believe is needed to play well in the often inclement conditions in Cleveland.
Winston has shown signs of turning the corner and spending two seasons around Sean Payton (and one around Drew Brees) certainly helps his case for a turnaround.
Still, I wonder if Winston fits Kevin Stefanski's system and even in the best of times, Winston will throw interceptions.
Mitch Trubisky (27) will always be thought of as the guy that the Bears picked over Patrick Mahomes but Trubisky did take the Bears to the playoffs twice and I have wondered if his career might have been different in Chicago had the Bears won the wild card game against Philadelphia that they lost on the famous Cody Parkey "Double Doink".
The Bills raved about Trubisky in his one season as Josh Allen's backup and he would be motivated to return to his home area so he could be worth a flyer.
Well-traveled Teddy Bridgewater is still only 29 and he does seem to be the Stefanski type but I'm not sure he is an upgrade over Mayfield and I wonder about Marcus Mariota who won a playoff game with Tennessee before losing his job to Ryan Tannehill and then backing up Derek Carr for two seasons with the Raiders.
I see similarities with Mariota to Mayfield in style (Mariota is much larger physically) and there are questions about Mayfield with Kevin Stefanski as a pairing, so it's fair to say there would be questions about Mariota as a fit in Cleveland.
The best chance for the Browns to upgrade over Baker Mayfield would come through trade but this could be costly and there isn't a guarantee that even these passers (short of Rodgers, Wilson, or Watson) would be big enough to make the Browns true Super Bowl contenders.
I would say four quarterbacks may be available (some are more available than others) that would be an upgrade over Baker Mayfield but would they be a big enough upgrade to merit trading some resources.
Derek Carr might have been available from Las Vegas but I bet Josh McDaniels will want to keep Carr and should the Raiders decide to deal Carr, my guess is that he could be offered to McDaniels old stomping grounds in New England so unless the Raiders are thinking first-round quarterback or the Browns are willing to outbid someone., I doubt the Browns would see Carr on the market.
Kirk Cousins is an easy guess with Cousins background with Kevin Stefanski with the Vikings and the Vikings did hire Kwesi Adofo-Mensah from the Brown to be the new Minnesota general manager so Andrew Berry should be able to get a deal done in theory.
Still, while I think Cousins would be an upgrade over Mayfield, you will have to give something up for Cousins, he is only under contract for 2022, and you'll pay him thirty-five million dollars.
If you can't move Mayfield-that's fifty-three million in two quarterbacks and both could walk at the end of the season.
I wouldn't complain about trading for Kirk Cousins but there are lots of things to wonder about such a trade- especially this thought-Even if Kirk Cousins is better than Baker Mayfield is he good enough to lift the Browns past the Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, etc?
Jimmy Garropolo will definitely be available after the 49ers moved up to take Trey Lance in last year's draft and for a player that has taken his team to a Super Bowl and conference title game, one would think there would be a line of teams for him.
But many think Garropolo is a product of the Shanahan system, he's not a deep thrower, and he's been very prone to interceptions at the wrong time.
Still, this is a thirty-year-old quarterback in his prime available for trade and I would think he would fit well with Kevin Stefanski's offense but the questions are the same as Kirk Cousins- Is Garropolo a large enough improvement over Baker Mayfield to justify what you will have to pay for him?
Garropolo will make just under twenty-five million dollars next season and like Cousins will be a free agent at the end of the season.
Matt Ryan would be intriguing but there are arguments against him.
Ryan turns 37 before the season starts and although I still think has some juice left, Ryan has two years on a contract that would cost the Browns forty-nine million over those two years, and he's never played outdoors for an entire season.
Still, Ryan finished with twenty touchdowns and only twelve interceptions for a team that traded Julio Jones and watched Calvin Ridley pull a Shawn Michaels in search of his smile, leaving Ryan with a receiving group led by Russell Gage.
Ryan and Garropolo have taken teams to the Super Bowl and both under the Kyle Shanahan system, which does have some things in common with how Kevin Stefanski runs his offense.
Carr might be the one of the four that is at his peak performance and Cousins has the relationship with Kevin Stefanski.
Now, would I prefer these quarterbacks to Baker Mayfield?
Straight up-yes, but these wouldn't be straight-up trades so it would all be cost depending.
I doubt any of these teams would be pounding the table for Baker Mayfield in return, although New England was reputed to have loved Mayfield coming out of Oklahoma so I suppose it's possible Josh McDaniels could be interested.
Should the Browns happen to be fortunate enough to have a suitor for Mayfield, the price for a veteran would decrease but I just don't see that happening.
In the end, I'm dubious of a Baker Mayfield season in 2002 that allows the Browns to compete with the other great quarterbacks in the conference, although I certainly think that he will be better than 2021 because I'm not sure he could be any worse.
At the same time, unless the Browns are able to trade for one of the veteran quarterbacks mentioned for a reasonable cost (The Browns have extra picks in the third and fourth round) and I doubt that will happen, Baker Mayfield will likely be back as the starter even as Andrew Berry shops for a better quarterback.
Hopefully, Mayfield and his "Baker Bros" are correct and his lousy 2021 was all due to his shoulder injury.
Because if that isn't the case and Mayfield is bad without an excuse, Baker Mayfield will be gone for 2023 and he might just take Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski with him.