How Baker Mayfield might become NFL’s highest paid QB

Cleveland Browns free agency. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Browns free agency. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Failure to sign Baker Mayfield to a long-term deal may prove costly for the Cleveland Browns in the long run

Folks, all kidding aside, Baker Mayfield is the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, and they need to get a long term deal that will benefit both sides. If they don’t, it could blow up in the Browns’ faces without hurting Mayfield a bit.

It’s the offseason and everybody is having fun fantasizing about having Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson as the quarterback or trading up for one of the college quarterback studs. All that stuff is liable to make Chomps barf his doggie biscuits because it is just not going to happen. The reality is the Browns finally have someone and they need to keep him.

The way that Baker Mayfield becomes the highest-paid quarterback is by the front office failing to conclude a long-term deal and putting him on the Franchise Tag, pay-as-you-go plan. That sounds great in the early stages, but if you want to see how screwed up it could get, please turn your attention to the southwest and watch the never-ending soap opera in Arlington Texas, where Dak Prescott is demonstrated the formula.

R.J. Bell of Straight Outta Vegas was probably the first to point out that Prescott was actually clobbering Jerry Jones & Co. at the negotiating table (and ended up getting a massive deal as the Cowboys finally paid him $160 million over four years).

The buzz has been that the Cowboys were cheapskates and didn’t want to give Prescott the contract he deserves. The poor guy was suffering with the franchise tag rather than getting the long-term contract that he deserves. But wait, the franchise tag, a one-year forced contract at top dollar, was actually the most lucrative path possible for the quarterback. Let’s break down the numbers.

Prescott was not a first-round draft pick and was woefully underpaid on his rookie deal. What Prescott likely did was to take out an insurance policy to cover the fourth of his contract (2019, the earliest time he could have signed a big contract). If he wanted to live big at the time, he could have easily taken out a multi-million dollar loan against the insurance policy to give himself a pay raise over the $2.2 million he earned from the Cowboys. This is a no-brainer for a lending institution.

After year four, the money starts to roll in, and the lenders get their money back, so don’t worry about them. In Year 5 (2020), the Franchise Tag was worth $31.4 million and actually made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL in terms of salary cap charge for 2020. In 2021, had he stayed with it, the second tag would have cost them $37.7 million. In 2022, the third and Franchise Tag would have been $54.3 million.

That was the basis for negotiations, and the reason why Prescott and his agent, Todd France, was able to demand such a huge salary from the Cowboys. By contrast, he counts roughly $22 million against the cap now thanks to the long-term deal.

Todd France and his client Dak Prescott are bringing tears to Jerry Jones’ eyes, and not tears of joy. Those are tears of actual financial pain.

The takeaway is that the Franchise Tag does not punish the quarterback, it is a trap that ownership can fall into. If they do not go long term, they either have to get a divorce or they will spend themselves into oblivion.

By the way, for any students reading this article, Todd France pulled down $44 million in commissions last season according to So if you want a career in sports but do not run a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, but are good with numbers and are willing to study fields like sales psychology, business negotiations, and law, that is not a bad career field to aspire to. Todd France is a freaking superstar.

But back to Mayfield. For whatever reason, there are a number of fans who are hoping for Mayfield to not get a long-term deal, thinking that he has not earned it, and management needs to get tough with him. They want to see Mayfield win the Super Bowl first, probably, and even then the Browns had better win two or three in a row to prove it was not a fluke. So, shall the Browns put Mayfield on the Dak Prescott plan? Maybe rough him up a bit?

Lord, let’s hope these crazy fans do not get their way.

Because Baker was the first overall pick, he has a fifth-year opinion which can kick in for 2022 estimated at $18.75 according to, and is actually way down from earlier estimates due to the Covid-19 revenue crash.  Hence you may see much higher estimates published elsewhere (over $30 million claimed by at least one nationally known writer), but we are going with OTC because they spend more time studying the complexities of the finances than most others. The higher estimates are based on older information and are probably wrong.

His sixth year, 2023, would the first year that the Browns would need to use the franchise tag if they cannot get a long-term deal done. The actual numbers will be proportionate to the salary cap and would differ from Prescott’s tag depending on whether the cap goes up or down, but would be equally horrific to afford. Year seven results in the second franchise tag, and year eight–if he were to get that far–would him to overtake Patrick Mahomes as the highest-paid quarterback on the planet.

Would it be worth it? For Mayfield? For Prescott? For anyone? All these questions are viable for discussion, not only for us fans, but at the highest levels in the front offices of NFL teams, and especially the Cleveland Browns.

A third franchise tag (i.e., the $54 million payday, give or take) is almost inconceivable. Even the second franchise tag is hefty enough that it may mess with the team’s cap structure. The Cowboys were not willing to go down that road and decided they had to give Prescott the largest contract this side of Patrick Mahomes.

This is a Browns’ publication, so we don’t much care what the Cowboys do, but nevertheless, it would be amazing if they could still win after sandbagging their salary cap the way they have. It would have been worse to stay on the Franchise Tag plan.

Of course, it would have been a public relations disaster to let the popular and terrifically talented Prescott go, but there has to be some concept of valuation that the team believes in and will stick to. Nobody can be worth unlimited dollars. More likely, however, they were too chicken to walk away (did a DPD writer just call Jerry Jones & Co. “chicken?” Sounds like it).

The team with the highest-paid quarterback has not won the Super Bowl since Drew Brees did it in 2009. Looking at the list of recent Super Bowl winners, Tom Brady was fourth overall in terms of cap hit in 2021. The year before, Patrick Mahomes was 32nd. Brady was 11th in 2018, Nick Foles was 47th in 2017, Brady was 18th in 2016, and Peyton Manning was the 5th highest paid in 2015. The already overspent Cowboys will not solve any problems by further overspending on the quarterback and cutting other positions.

Would this kind of loco franchise tag deal work any better for the Browns? Highly unlikely. In the case of Mayfield, the situation can best be resolved with a long-term deal if it can be done for substantially less than the franchise tag value. The Browns should not get on the Dak plan and wind up overspending.

Thus, it is probably a good idea to stay away from the franchise tag situation, and look for a fair, long-term contract to stabilize the franchise. Don’t screw this up by thinking that Baker and his agent can be pushed around. That’s more likely to backfire and result in an untenable Dak-like situation, giving the Browns an unaffordably expensive quarterback who will sandbag the salary cap for years to come.

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Instead, the Browns and Mayfield need to get a fair, long-term deal done, one that both sides can live with.