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But for the fact that the Browns haven’t burned but obliterated their bridge with Baker Mayfield, they’d have a quick and easy replacement for Deshaun Watson, if he’s suspended for all of 2022. However, the Browns have managed to completely alienate Mayfield, who surely won’t be inclined to return to the team as the one-year placeholder while Watson in’t available.

So if, as it appears, there’s no way to get Mayfield to sign up for one more year in Cleveland, what will the Browns do?

They’ve signed Jacoby Brissett. It’s one thing for him to handle the gig for six or eight games. It’s another for him to be entrusted with the starting job for the full year.

Some have suggested that the Browns should trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. That will be far easier said than done. Garoppolo is due to make $25 million this year. The Browns already have surrendered significant assets for Watson. It would be difficult for the Browns to give up more picks for the privilege of paying Garoppolo $25 million.

A three-way trade could make sense, with the Browns sending Baker Mayfield to the Panthers, the Panthers sending a draft pick or two to the 49ers, and the 49ers sending Garoppolo to Cleveland. But the question of paying Mayfield’s $18.8 million guaranteed salary continues to complicate any such conversations.

The best approach for the Browns would be to find a way to persuade Mayfield to return for a year. With Watson (if he’s suspended for a year) having his $1.035 million salary for 2022 pushed to 2023 and his $46 million salary for 2023 pushed to 2024, the Browns could actually offer more money to Mayfield for the coming year. They could also agree not to tag him after the season. That would be the kind of tangible gesture that could persuade Mayfield to return for another year — especially if he realizes (as he should) that he’ll have a better chance to position himself for a big payday on the open market if he stays put in an offense he knows, and with talent on both sides of the ball.

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That’s a potential win-win for the Browns and Mayfield. Given everything the Browns have said and done regarding Mayfield, it’s likely too late to make it happen.

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