As the Cleveland Browns brass flew back from a meeting with who they hope will be their future quarterback, Deshaun Watson, their current quarterback, Baker Mayfield, posted a statement to social media on Tuesday night thanking the city of Cleveland and its fans.
“This is not a message with hidden meaning. This is strictly to thank the city of Cleveland for embracing my family and me,” Mayfield wrote in the note that was posted to his Instagram and Twitter accounts. “I have no clue what happens next. … I have given this franchise everything I have. … and that will not change where I take my next snap.”
The Browns flew to Houston on Tuesday to pitch Watson on waiving his no-trade clause to come to Cleveland, a league source told ESPN. The Browns are one of four teams, along with the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, who are attempting to land Watson in a trade with the Texans. Watson has already met with the Saints and Panthers and is scheduled to meet with the Falcons on Wednesday.
Watson did not play at all last season following an offseason request to be traded and the emergence of 22 civil lawsuits against Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions. A grand jury in Texas on Friday declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, signaling the end of criminal proceedings related to Watson in Harris County, where Houston is located.
Before meeting with the Browns on Tuesday, Watson answered questions on two of the 22 lawsuits filed against him during ongoing depositions, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Tony Buzbee, told KHOU 11. Watson had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when sitting for two sessions of depositions that began Friday.
Up until then, both Browns general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski had publicly declared that Mayfield would remain their quarterback, up through the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
“We fully expect Baker to be our starter and bounce back,” Berry said in January.
But that equation appeared to change Friday when the grand jury declined to indict Watson, leaving Mayfield’s future in limbo with the franchise that selected him No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft.
Mayfield has endured a tumultuous, up-and-down tenure in Cleveland over four seasons. He played under four different head coaches through his first three seasons in the league. Despite that, Mayfield rebounded to quarterback Cleveland to its first playoff victory in 26 years during the 2020 season.
But in Week 2 of the 2021 season, he suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing left shoulder, and struggled the rest of the way. He wound up finishing 27th in the league in QBR, as the Browns missed the playoffs and finished with a disappointing 8-9 record.
Mayfield, who underwent surgery to repair the labrum on Jan. 19 and is expected to be fully cleared well before training camp, is entering the final year of his rookie deal, which will pay him $19 million in 2022.