The Cleveland Browns shocked the entire NFL world by not only trading for Deshaun Watson, but by securing his services on a fully-guaranteed, $230 million deal. This has set a new precedent for star players around the league, meaning they can demand guaranteed deals from here on out.
It also means the front office in Cleveland is stuck trying to trade Baker Mayfield. In theory, this sounds like a simple concept. He is a former No. 1 overall pick on an expiring deal worth roughly $19 million who has had flashes of success in the past.
Yet the market has moved, and Cleveland has no takers. That remains true less than one week before the start of the 2022 NFL Draft. So what gives?
One likely scenario is that teams aren't in a rush to take on that entire salary. Instead, they are hoping the Browns cave and pick up some of the bill.
Yet ESPN's Jeremy Fowler floated a more intriguing theory. He claims the entire league may be getting back at the team for giving Watson a fully-guaranteed contract by refusing to trade for Mayfield. That would lead to the team cutting the quarterback, taking on all his money, and then allowing him to join any team he likes.
"A theory from @JFowlerESPN on @937thefan that NFL team executives have told him that owners are so pissed at the Browns for signing Deshaun Watson to his mega deal that they could instruct their teams to not trade for Mayfield and force the Browns to cut him." @ThePoniExpress via Twitter
This may sound crazy, but NFL owners cannot be happy with Browns ownership at the moment.
The Cleveland Browns have changed how NFL stars negotiate deals
NFL owners have always had the luxury of agreeing to lucrative deals without the entire contract being guaranteed. For examled Patrick Mahomes' deal is worth nearly half-a-billion dollars, but he is never going to get all of that money. Much of his contract is more of a statement, rather than an assured payday.
But this has changed with Watson. Barring a suspension, he is set to earn $230 million. That includes if he is hurt or if the Browns want to cut him for any reason throughout the duration of the deal.
This is a monumental shift, and other owners now have to deal with players demanding the same. That likely has certain individuals frustrated with ownership in Cleveland.
So back to Fowler's theory. Could this be happening? It is certainly a possibility, but it should also be noted that not too many teams have interest in Mayfield at the moment. The Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers remain the two most likely landing spots.
Collusion in the NFL is not some new concept, with Colin Kaepernick standing out as the most recent example of the practice. Mayfield's situation is on a much smaller scale, but the history in the league means a bit of collusion cannot be ruled out.
Conspiracy theories are fun and are a great way to build discussion. Given recent NFL history, this one may edge closer to reality than conspiracy once time passes and we learn more.