Tomase: Patriots wanted Baker Mayfield and now we know why after stellar debut

John Tomase
September 21, 2018 - 10:24 am
Baker Mayfield

Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports

After watching Baker Mayfield shred the Jets in an electrifying debut on Thursday night, it's worth revisiting how badly the Patriots wanted the Heisman Trophy winner.

According to multiple reports around the draft, as well as a podcast interview with Mayfield's agent, a clear picture emerged of a Patriots team willing to make an aggressive push up the board to grab the Oklahoma quarterback, who ended up going first overall to the Browns in a pick that seemed shocking but suddenly looks right on the money.

Based on the early returns, it looks like the Patriots had the right idea.

Mayfield entered on Thursday in the second quarter with the Browns trailing 14-0. He led Cleveland to 21 of the next 24 points -- even catching a critical two-point conversion -- as the Browns rallied for a 21-17 victory and their first win since 2016.

Mayfield finished 17-for-23 for 201 yards and no TDs, but he twice drove the Browns inside the 5 before Carlos Hyde traipsed into the end zone with touchdowns. In the process, he looked exactly like a Patriots-style quarterback, making quick, decisive reads and fitting the ball into tight windows over the middle while also hustling the Browns through a poised, effective two-minute drill in his first NFL snaps. The bullet he threw to a well-covered Jarvis Landry on the seam to set up Cleveland's first TD looked positively Tom Brady-like.

Rewinding to the draft, the Pats were linked to Mayfield in numerous ways. The NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported that the Pats considered him the closest thing to Garoppolo in the draft. The Athletic's Jeff Howe wrote that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels coveted Mayfield and informed his camp the Patriots would consider trading up to No. 2 to acquire him. His agent, Jack Mills, made things even more explicit on Andrew Brandt's podcast.

"We had another team -- which is going to surprise you -- another team had said, 'You may get a big surprise on draft day at No. 2 if he is available.' It was the Patriots," Mills said. "They had (No.) 23 and they had (No.) 31, and they had two seconds, and I don't know. We thought, boy, that's going to be a heck of a move to get up that high from where they are. And of course, he wasn't available so we never knew if that was a reality or not."

Mayfield's camp had reportedly declined to visit with the Patriots when they were only picking 31st. But once they shipped received Brandin Cooks to the Rams for the 23rd selection, they suddenly had the firepower to trade up, and were granted a visit, per Albert Breer of SI.

We'll never know what would've happened from there, because Cleveland rendered the entire discussion irrelevant, but there are so many layers to this story.

For one, it would've been the most aggressive deal in Patriots history, requiring perhaps the team's first four picks, if you believe in the Jimmy Johnson value chart. Imagine how well-positioned the organization would feel with Mayfield replacing Garoppolo as the quarterback of the future.

For another, it would've started Tom Brady's clock again, and given everything we've read recently about the quarterback being unhappy with the organization and even envisioning an opportunity to play elsewhere, it potentially could've hastened his departure.

For three, imagine how Brady would've felt if head coach Bill Belichick had traded his primary deep threat and then used the pick as ammo to draft his replacement?

For four, the Pats would've had a much better shot at landing Mayfield if they had picked up the phone and called the Browns last Halloween. Cleveland would've almost certainly surrendered more than a second-rounder for Garoppolo, and more importantly, it wouldn't have been in the market for a QB at No. 1. The Browns probably wouldn't have been picking first at all, given Garoppolo's five straight victories with the one-win 49ers to close last season.

A legitimate quarterback can rescue even the most moribund franchise. Just ask the Browns. On Thursday night, Mayfield gave them life they haven't felt since the days of Bernie Kosar.

Under just slightly different circumstances, it's possible Mayfield could instead be holding Brady's clipboard. Just add it to the what-if pile that continues accumulating in the wake of trading Jimmy G., but give the Pats this -- it looks like they were targeting the right guy.