As long as Odell Beckham Jr. is a member of the Cleveland Browns, trade rumors will continue to swirl around the star receiver, along with speculation about quarterback Baker Mayfield’s NFL destiny. Even with a strong 7-3 record heading into Week 12 and an inside track to a playoff berth, Cleveland could be in the market for replacing its No. 1 receiver in OBJ and presumptive franchise signal-caller, perhaps in the 2021 NFL draft.
Beckham suffered a season-ending knee injury, and adverse weather conditions in recent weeks have complicated the Browns’ ability to evaluate Mayfield as the long-term answer under center. Will OBJ find a new team next season? Is Mayfield the Browns’ future at the most important position? And how might the 2021 draft figure into these key decisions?
Check out the latest buzz around the Browns, featuring Sportsnaut’s own cutting-edge analysis.
Cleveland Browns trade rumors: OBJ on the way out?
After going down for the year in Week 7 versus Cincinnati, the whispers haven’t ceased regarding Odell Beckham’s outlook with the Browns in 2021 and beyond. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported the three-time Pro Bowler “may have played his last game” for the team.
What’s the case for Beckham remaining with Mayfield and Co. to give it one last shot for Cleveland in 2021? Well, it’s true that the dynamic wideout played through a core muscle injury for all of 2019 and still managed to log a 1,000-yard season — despite playing under a head coach in Freddie Kitchens who was in over his head and fired after one colossally disappointing 6-10 campaign.
But there’s no denying Beckham’s presence, intentional or not, created an innate demand for the Browns to feed him the ball. Mayfield has never been able to consistently connect with OBJ. Between that fact and the perpetual lack of continuity that plagues Cleveland, this hasn’t been the explosive quarterback-receiver combo everyone expected.
It’s not an indictment on either player. The bottom line here is that sometimes these relationships just don’t work out, despite the best efforts from both sides. In a prospective trade, Beckham could yield a premium draft asset or a player that addresses an area of weakness on the Browns’ 2021 roster.
There have been years of investment in the chemistry between Jarvis Landry and Mayfield, and Rashard Higgins has had a rapport with the Browns’ hopeful long-term quarterback since 2018 training camp. Rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones flashed with a game-winning touchdown grab against the Bengals in Week 7.
Cleveland’s run-heavy offense doesn’t need a plethora of receiving weapons to thrive, and the club is deep at tight end with the likes of Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant and David Njoku in the fold. This makes Beckham all the more expendable in a trade. He’s a world-class talent whose playmaking ability would likely be better utilized elsewhere.
Baker Mayfield and the quarterback-rich 2021 draft
Although no Browns trade rumors circle Baker Mayfield at the minute, the team still has to decide whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on the former No. 1 overall pick’s rookie contract this coming offseason. Dealing Mayfield away shouldn’t be a priority, yet there’s reason to believe general manager Andrew Berry and the front office will at least look at the loaded 2021 draft class closely.
Bleacher Report expert Matt Miller wrote glowingly about Mayfield in the aftermath of Beckham’s injury when he caught fire and willed the Browns to a thrilling Week 7 victory over Cincinnati. Miller shared a tidbit from one Cleveland player who spoke about how Mayfield uses critics to fuel him.
“Knowing Bake like we do, that s–t motivates him, so it was great knowing he got the same messages we all did [about him struggling],” the player said.
On the other hand, how far can perceived slights, a lack of high-end athleticism and the inability to make full-field reads carry a quarterback who’s supposed to lead an organization to consistent postseason berths for the next decade or so? It doesn’t seem like the most sustainable skill set and mental makeup. Maybe that’s why The Athletic’s Dan Pompei reported that NFL executives are floating Mayfield as a possible offseason trade target.
Far-fetched as that may sound, the New England Patriots know a little something about winning football and were infatuated with Mayfield when he entered the draft, yet were too far back in the order to pull off the epic trade it’d have taken to select him. The Pats are far from settled under center, with many viewing Cam Newton as a stopgap placeholder. New England coach and personnel guru Bill Belichick loves maneuvering in the draft and may do so again if he can nab Mayfield for a Day 2 pick or something in that neighborhood.
Combine all that with the 2021 draft landscape wherein five to six quarterbacks could be drafted in the first round, and there’s real merit to Cleveland moving off Mayfield. Between Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Mac Jones, Kyle Trask and Zach Wilson, there’s no shortage of viable options.
When there are this many talented passers at the most important position in a draft class, it mandates consideration — unless your quarterback’s last name is Mahomes, Wilson, Rodgers or Watson. Whether it’s any other team with a borderline dubious quarterback situation or the Browns, trade rumors will always follow, even if it’s only part of the smokescreens and silly-season fodder that populates pre-draft commentary.
Lawrence and Fields will probably go in the top two or three, and are thus likely out of reach for Cleveland. The other four could easily be in play, though, and it would depend on who the Browns like most and where they’re drafting based on how the final standings and playoff picture play out.
Lance and Wilson both have excellent running ability and plenty of arm strength, while Jones and Trask are extremely efficient distributors who are lighting up the SEC this year and barely turning the ball over at all. Lance or Wilson would add another element to the Browns’ elite rushing attack spearheaded by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Most importantly, Cleveland could stand to cut back on interceptions, and anyone from this quartet would be a big help in that area if their college production is any indication. Trask (31-3 TD-to-INT ratio in 2020), Jones (18-3), Wilson (26-2) or Lance (28-0 in 2019) all potentially present a more appealing alternative to Mayfield regarding ball security, as the latter has thrown 42 picks in 40 career NFL starts.
If the Browns can utilize free agency and the remainder of the draft outside of the first round to build on the other side of the ball around superstar pass-rusher Myles Garrett, they could definitely take a swing at a QB on Day 1 of the draft.
This story has been updated with a video added.