This offseason, quarterback Baker Mayfield became eligible for a contract extension, and history shows that the Browns would benefit from paying him before other quarterbacks from his class.
The 2018 quarterback class features three players that will likely get extensions done this offseason: Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen. The Browns have a lot to gain from getting a deal done with Mayfield before the Ravens and Bills can with their prospective signal-callers.
General manager Andrew Berry and staff still have to make decisions on corner Denzel Ward, running back Nick Chubb, guard Wyatt Teller, among others this season. If they can set the market for the 2018 class, then the Browns can save money and pay another player at a premium position.
For example, three quarterbacks in the 2016 class signed long-term extensions with the team that drafted them. Here are the numbers for each of those contracts.
June 6, 2019 - Carson Wentz signs a 4-year extension with Eagles, worth $128 million and $107.9 million guaranteed.
September 3, 2019 - Jared Goff signs a 4-year extension with Rams, worth $134 million and $110 million guaranteed.
March 8, 2021 - Dak Prescott signs a 4-year extension with Cowboys, worth $164 million and $126 million guaranteed.
The numbers exponentially increase with every quarterback contract signed. The Cowboys waited two years two pay Prescott and lost upwards of $30 million in the process.
The drafts before 2016 were relatively weak at the quarterback position. No one proved worthy of a long-term extension, but the trend continues with the 2012 quarterback class.
May 18, 2015 - Ryan Tannehill signs a 4-year extension with Dolphins, worth $77 million and $45 million guaranteed.
July 31, 2015 - Russell Wilson signs a 4-year extension, worth $87.6 million and $61.5 million guaranteed.
June 29, 2016 - Andrew Luck signs a 5-year extension with Colts, worth $123 million and $87 million guaranteed.
March 15, 2018 - Kirk Cousins signs a 3-year contract with Vikings, worth $84 million and fully guaranteed.
The Bills and Ravens can afford to wait because they have no other looming extensions they have to payout. The Browns have many stars that they will have to pay either this offseason or the next.
Cleveland has already indicated that they believe Mayfield is a franchise player. Once an organization establishes that there is no benefit to playing the waiting game.
The money the Browns can save against the cap will allow them to retain players like Ward and Chubb. Both corner and running back are not cornerstone positions, but management can afford to retain them if Mayfield signs early.
Many have argued that the Browns need to wait and see with Mayfield. They want him to play the fourth year on his deal and "prove" that he is worthy of a long-term deal.
If the team chose to follow this route, they would risk losing valuable pieces. Mayfield has had two productive years in the NFL, and in his second year was subject to poor coaching and bad conditioning.
Carson Wentz and Jared Goff provide cautionary tales that lead some to want to wait. Both were handed big money after their third season and are no longer with the teams that drafted them.
The concerns are understandable, but both situations are different. The Rams felt obligated to extend Goff after his breakout season where the Rams made the Super Bowl, and Carson Wentz had an MVP-caliber season but tore his ACL. Mayfield has been productive in multiple systems and has had no serious injury trouble up to this point.
The bottom line is that the Browns can't operate out of fear. If they believe Mayfield is the long-term solution then they are losing money by waiting.
Mayfield will be looking for a number in the $35 million range annually. That would make him the fourth-highest paid player in the NFL.
Allen and Jackson will approach their negotiations with the same starting number. The longer each of these three waits, the more they will be paid.
Again, the Bills and the Ravens can afford not to be first. The Browns, on the other hand, would be able to alter their financial outlook moving forward drastically.