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Browns send Baker Mayfield to Panthers, ending drawn-out saga

Baker Mayfield leaves the Browns after four seasons. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns finally completed the process of moving on from Baker Mayfield, agreeing Wednesday to trade the quarterback to the Carolina Panthers. The trade ends a four-year pairing in which Mayfield provided glimpses of potential stardom but did not fulfill the promise attached to being a top choice in the NFL draft.

Both teams confirmed the deal, with the Panthers announcing that it is contingent upon Mayfield passing a physical. The Browns receive a conditional fifth-round selection in the 2024 draft. The pick can become a fourth-rounder based on Mayfield’s playing time in Carolina, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mayfield agreed to reduce his $18.858 million salary for the 2022 season by about $3.5 million, according to a person with knowledge of the deliberations. The Browns will pay about $10.5 million of the remaining salary while the Panthers will pay approximately $5 million, according to that person.

The Panthers host the Browns on Sept. 11, the season opener for both teams.

“Baker Mayfield infused our organization with tenacity and grit during his time as our starting quarterback,” Browns General Manager Andrew Berry said in a statement. “Baker’s competitiveness, toughness and ability to persevere were all characteristics that endeared him to our city as well as his teammates. He will always have a unique place in Browns history for what he accomplished and we wish him well as he continues his career.”

Mayfield, 27, is under contract for one more season after the Browns previously exercised their fifth-year option on his four-year rookie contract, making him eligible for unrestricted free agency next offseason. He joins Sam Darnold — the quarterback chosen third by the New York Jets in the 2018 draft, two spots after the Browns took Mayfield — on the Panthers’ roster.

The deal comes 3½ months after the Browns replaced Mayfield by trading for Deshaun Watson, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Houston Texans who did not play last season while facing sexual misconduct allegations.

The Browns are parting with Mayfield even with Watson facing a potentially lengthy suspension by the NFL under its personal conduct policy. The league argued to Sue L. Robinson, the former U.S. district judge who is the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, during a three-day hearing last week for an indefinite suspension of at least one season, according to a person familiar with the matter. The NFLPA is believed to have argued for no suspension.

Robinson instructed each side to submit a post-hearing brief due next week and will make her ruling thereafter. If she determines Watson violated the conduct policy and imposes disciplinary measures, either side can appeal to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him.

Texans ‘enabled’ Deshaun Watson’s conduct, accuser says in lawsuit

The Browns added veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett this offseason but apparently believed that their relationship with Mayfield was irreparable, even with Watson’s uncertain playing status.

Mayfield gets his wish after asking for a trade. The Browns initially informed Mayfield through his representative that they did not intend to comply with that request.

But the Browns also had been told at one point that they had been eliminated from consideration for being able to trade for Watson. With the reversal by Watson and the trade with the Texans, the Browns likewise reversed course on Mayfield’s trade request, though it took months for the process to play out.

Mayfield’s salary was believed to have been an obstacle. The Seattle Seahawks also were linked to Mayfield in trade speculation. But the Panthers, another team that pursued Watson in March, will give Mayfield his chance for a fresh start months after the fraying of his relationship with the Browns was put on public display.

The Browns met with Watson on March 15 as part of the deliberations on that trade. Later that day, Mayfield acknowledged the uncertainty about his status with the Browns in a statement released on social media. He thanked the city of Cleveland and Browns fans in what amounted to a farewell address, even though Mayfield did not say specifically he would play elsewhere next season.

“I have no clue what happens next, which is the meaning behind the silence I have had during the duration of this process,” Mayfield said in that statement. “I can only control what I can, which is trusting in God’s plan throughout this process. I have given this franchise everything I have. That is something I’ve always done at every stage, and at every level. And that will not change wherever I take my next snap.”

Mayfield’s trade request — and the Browns’ initial rejection of it — came before the Watson trade. Mayfield then informed the Browns that he preferred to be traded to the Indianapolis Colts but would keep an open mind in case such a deal could not be worked out. The Colts instead traded for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, keeping Mayfield on hold as the Browns’ options for dealing him dwindled.

The Browns never signed Mayfield to a lucrative long-term deal that would have signaled their confidence in him as their franchise quarterback. He played in 60 games and made 59 starts over four seasons with the Browns after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2018 out of Oklahoma, throwing for 14,125 yards and 92 touchdowns with 56 interceptions.

The Browns reached the playoffs in the 2020 season, with Kevin Stefanski as a rookie NFL head coach, but regressed to an 8-9 record last season. Mayfield struggled with injuries, throwing 13 interceptions to go with 17 touchdown passes.

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Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.

Civil suits settled: Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has reached settlement agreements in 20 of the 24 active civil lawsuits filed against him by women who accused him of sexual misconduct, the attorney for the women announced.

Jerry Brewer: “The Browns were prepared for initial turbulence, but they assumed they were getting Watson at the end of his troubles. Now his disgrace is their disaster.”

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