Thursday, May 26, 2022

NFL insider notes: Impact of Baker Mayfield’s inevitable departure, plus projecting top 10 picks by position

The closer we get to the draft, the less likely it is that Baker Mayfield will still be in Cleveland by the time April makes way for May. And where Mayfield lands could certainly impact the way quarterbacks come off the board and which teams utilize a top selection on a passer.

Things have been quiet lately with Mayfield, which in general is a good thing. It’s better for the Browns, as they go about finding a way to move him and his near-$19M contract, seeing what value they can cull from it. It’s better for Mayfield, who has had no shortage of turmoil during his relatively short stint in Cleveland. And it’s best for whichever team does end up landing him, as he tries to transition to a new locker room and coaching staff.

What’s long been clear is that Mayfield has no future with the Browns. And I am detecting a sense that this situation could end up finding itself resolved in the coming weeks. Neither side wants this to linger deep into the offseason. Cleveland has enough controversy already engulfing its quarterback room with the trade for Deshaun Watson and his precedent-setting contract extension; it doesn’t need any additional Mayfield drama dragging on.

Owner Jimmy Haslam already had a payroll projected to be above $250M (on a $208M soft cap), so moving as much of Mayfield’s contract as possible will be a priority. The critical question has been, and continues to be, how much of that salary is Haslam willing to eat to get something in return? That’s what other teams are waiting on; that is the rub. And after the record-setting guaranteed contract he gave Watson, no other owner is in the mood to try to help Haslam out. It wouldn’t shock me if the Browns end up assuming $5M or more to facilitate a solid return, as this is the team that once essentially paid $16M (via assuming Brock Osweiler’s bloated contract) for a draft pick.

If this trade does go down around the draft, then it certainly would impact another team potentially not using a high pick on a quarterback. Seattle makes the most sense to me for Mayfield, still. The Seahawks are used to having a QB without ideal size, they don’t mind big personalities, Mayfield has been to the playoffs, and I don’t see Pete Carroll wanting a true re-boot under center.

At this point I keep coming back to the Falcons and Panthers as teams that will take a QB in the top 10 — and possibly the Lions, too, despite Dan Campbell’s protestations — and the Steelers, Saints, Commanders and Giants as other teams that could end up addressing the position sooner rather than later in the draft.

Top-10 equation

I’m not doing a mock draft until the day of the first round, but if I was to do that endeavor now, I would lean hard into having four edge rushers, three offensive tackles, a corner and two quarterbacks in the top 10.

Things aren’t exactly coming into focus this far out — that usually happens the week of the draft when teams have completed their internal meetings and their visits with prospects — but there are certain names who are hard to see not landing in the top third of the top round. Some positions are just too important to ignore, and the needs of teams picking in the top 10 align with the players available at these positions.

Certainly, a safety like Kyle Hamilton could emerge in the top 10. A third quarterback could as well. Maybe two corners slide in. But put me down for that initial equation.

Browns breakout

For all the chatter about the Browns offense and their quarterback situation, if this team withstands the inevitable Watson suspension and gets where it hopes to go, the defense will have to be substantially better. And young safety Grant Delpit could have plenty to do with that.

It wasn’t that long ago that Delpit came out of LSU looking like a difference maker. Injuries have robbed him of more time than anyone would like, but he is in position to be a breakout player for the Browns this season and should form a strong starting tandem with John Johnson III. Delpit is in line to be the starter, with Ronnie Harrison recently brought back on a no-frills veteran contract to serve in a depth role and as a nickel back (the Browns are no stranger to three safety sets).

I’ve got my eye on Delpit as someone who could take a major leap this season. The Browns still want to beef up the pass rush — and I figure they will — and they also may end up playing quite a bit with the lead, which would allow them to get a little more creative about how they deploy certain key players.

Remembering Dwayne Haskins

Dwayne Haskins is gone far too soon. His passing at age 24 is a tragedy that has left so many friends and loved ones and teammates devastated. It’s still hard to comprehend, frankly.

For the first time in his far-too-brief career, Haskins had found a place that felt something like home. After being drafted into a terrible situation in Washington — which was close to where he played high school ball but provided no infrastructure or developmental plan and was probably the worst place he could have landed — Haskins was truly feeling wanted in Pittsburgh.

Head coach Mike Tomlin was the driving force for the Ohio State legend landing with the Steelers in the first place, and he continued to nurture and mentor him until his passing over the weekend. Haskins, I’m told, was thriving on and off the field in that climate. He would have had a chance to compete for a bigger role in Pittsburgh. He would have had an opportunity to start to silence a legion of people in the sport and in the media who seemed unusually invested in his failure.

His story was so untold. There should have been so much more opportunity. His life was seemingly only just beginning. And now it’s gone. And there is so much about what could have been that we will never know.

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