BEREA — New Browns receiver Amari Cooper said most of what he knew about the organization came from the movie “Draft Day.”
If he believes the outlandish conundrum faced by fictional general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. over the No. 1 pick was chaos, Cooper hasn’t seen anything yet.
Think the Johnny Manziel circus, Freddie Kitchens’ T-shirt, and the drama of Odell Beckham Jr.’s parting.
Dysfunction is back in Berea, thanks to co-owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.
The Haslams decided to trade for Houston Texans three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson and give him a record $230 million guaranteed contract while he’s facing 22 civil lawsuits from massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct.
The NFL is conducting its own investigation and Watson could be suspended by the league, even though two grand juries in Texas have failed to indict him on criminal charges.
Meanwhile, General Manager Andrew Berry has been unable to find a trade partner for quarterback Baker Mayfield and his $18.858 million salary. If no one bites during the April 28-30 NFL Draft and Berry is unwilling to cut Mayfield, the Browns may have to pay Mayfield to sit at home in Austin, Texas, until another team’s starting quarterback is injured.
Mayfield lounged on his couch for a 90-minute “Ya Neva Know: You Know What I Mean?” podcast dissing his teammates and alienating those who might consider hiring him.
“I want to be great, so I have a bunch of extra motivation. But the process of not getting complacent is a huge deal,” Mayfield said on the podcast. “It’s a huge battle within the locker room in my position being a quarterback. Some of these guys don’t play the game because they love it, they’re playing it to get a retirement fund. They’re making tons of a million dollars and they don’t care about winning.
“How do you motivate people like that to win is where I’m at now. How can I get the best out of people that are making a s— ton of money? I could always motivate people when we weren’t making money. That was easy. I can get in their face; I can do all that … You’re trying to get to that level. You get a pension after four years, how do you motivate people that are already at that point?”
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Charged with managing the locker room, Mayfield was asked by a co-host if coaches are hands-off in that aspect.
“It varies. Some locker rooms understand it, some don’t,” Mayfield said. “And I’m pretty excited to be moving on to the next chapter where hopefully it is understood.”
For the Browns this season, the Watson headlines will be inescapable. Lawyers on both sides talking. Speculation on the league’s decision. The possibility that some of the women who have filed civil suits will speak out or more will come forward. Watson must provide the names of the massage therapists he saw from June 2, 2019, to June 2, 2020, even if they didn’t file suit, which could bring more issues to light.
With every new wrinkle, the local media will be forced to pose questions, and they won’t be directed only to Watson.
Then there’s the disgruntled Mayfield, who said on the podcast he felt disrespected by the Browns. One can only imagine what he will say about the team that drafted him first overall in 2018 when he finally does find a new football home.
Mayfield said on “Ya Neva Know” that after he underwent shoulder surgery on Jan. 19 in California, he had his marketing agent change all his social media passwords and delete the apps off his phone. Instagram and Twitter that he used to obsess over? Gone.
“The only thing I have is Bleacher Report,” Mayfield said. “I get notifications, that’s the only reason I know anything that’s going on in the world. They even had the Will Smith slap on there.”
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To get through the Watson-Mayfield madness, Browns players may have to follow Mayfield’s lead one last time, even if he doesn’t really know how to disconnect.
During the first media availability of the Browns’ voluntary offseason program on Wednesday, the civil charges Watson faces were the elephant in the room. There was a sense of excitement over Watson’s elite talent, but coach Kevin Stefanski, cornerback Denzel Ward, quarterback Jacoby Brissett and Cooper didn’t wade deep into the abyss of Watson’s situation.
“I trust AB, I trust the Haslams and everybody that they’ve brought in or the moves that they’ve made,” Ward said.
Ward was still basking in the glow of a five-year, $100.5 million contract extension announced on Monday.
Stefanski believes the 2022 Browns can avoid distractions. With the notoriously impatient Haslams making the bold move for Watson, Stefanski’s job may depend on that. He’s a more likely scapegoat than Berry if Watson doesn’t deliver the Lombardi Trophy.
“I think that is what our guys do really well,” Stefanski said. “They are professionals, and they know that when we are in the building, we focus on what is in front of us, whether it is the classroom, the weight room, or eventually when we are out on the field. … That is what the guys are doing.”
Cooper, acquired in a March 12 trade from the Dallas Cowboys, may learn that the 2014 movie “Draft Day” was just a preview of the circus ahead.
Before the Watson and Mayfield situations are resolved, many in Berea may be tempted to resort to a “Billy” Manziel disguise.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.