Baker Mayfield is one of the bright young stars in today’s game, throwing for 3,725 yards along with 27 touchdowns in only his rookie season. The 2018 first overall pick has the makings of the quarterback the Cleveland Browns have been looking for over the last 20 or so years.
Things could have easily gone differently, though. So far, Mayfield seems worthy of a No. 1 selection, but that was far from a sure thing ahead of last year’s draft. With Sam Darnold and Josh Allen competing with Mayfield for the top spot in that year’s quarterback class, no one knew for sure what Cleveland would do with the first pick. They ended up taking Mayfield, but if they had gone in a different direction (say, Darnold or Saquon Barkley), Mayfield was “convinced” he would have ended up in the Northeast for a surprising team.
In an ESPN feature by Mina Kimes, Mayfield revealed he believed the New England Patriots planned to trade up and take him at No. 2 if the Browns passed on him with the first pick. This is the first time we’ve heard this from the man himself, but not the first time the news has made the rounds; immediately after last year’s draft, Mayfield’s agent came out and said the same thing. It’s different to hear it from the man himself, however.
Ah, what could have been. The shockwaves would have been far and wide for a variety of teams. The Patriots had the 23rd and 31st overall picks in the first round that year, along with two second-rounders, which would have been the bare minimum price to move up that far in the first round. If they traded up to take Mayfield, they wouldn’t have had Sony Michel, who was invaluable during their Super Bowl run and racked up over 300 yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs.
The New York Giants would have presumably been their trade partner, and things would change drastically for them too. They don’t end up with Saquon Barkley, and instead are armed with a plethora of picks at the top of the 2018 draft at the very least. Maybe they take a flier on Lamar Jackson with the 31st overall pick and end up with Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore, both of whom showed a lot of potential last season.
The biggest change, of course, would come for Mayfield. It’s unknown what the Patriots would have done with Tom Brady if this trade went down, but the safe assumption is they would have kept him for at least one year. Mayfield doesn’t get a chance to prove himself early in the season and spends the year on the bench. The Oklahoma product would have been easily the most talented backup the Patriots have ever had, but sitting in the same room as Brady and Bill Belichick isn’t a surefire path to success if history is any indication; Matt Cassel made his money but ultimately didn’t do much once he left New England, Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t been healthy enough to prove himself, and every other backup QB (Ryan Mallet, Rohan Davey, Brian Hoyer) never amounted to more than a journeyman. Not to mention that Mayfield’s outgoing personality may not have exactly meshed with the stony demeanor of Belichick and his preferred ways of operation in regards to media.
NFL alternate history is as fascinating as it is fruitless. It seems very un-Patriots to send at least four picks to draft a quarterback, especially after the reported internal strife over Garoppolo as Brady’s successor. Then again, no one has ever really been able to predict what goes on in Belichick’s mind. Still, fun to think about for everyone except Cleveland fans.