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Reports sharply conflict on whether Seahawks want Baker Mayfield

The truth regarding Seattle’s interest in Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield remains muddled, And that may be exactly how the Seahawks and/or the Browns want it.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media said the Seahawks have never had strong interest in Baker Mayfield. On Tuesday evening, Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, who recently reported that the Seahawks continues to have a high level of interest in Mayfield, took issue with Rapoport’s characterization, calling it “inaccurate.”

If the Seahawks are interested, they’re doing a great job of keeping it from becoming as obvious as, say, the Panthers’ interest in Mayfield. Carolina and Cleveland had trade talks during the draft. The negotiations fell apart over the respective portions of Mayfield’s $18.8 million salary that the Browns and Panthers would pay. More recent reporting indicated that the interest isn’t dead, even after the Panthers pulled the plug during the draft and picked Matt Corral.

Seattle, which did its best to misdirect everyone for months on whether Russell Wilson would be traded, possibly is doing the same thing here, working to create the impression that they aren’t interested despite being interested in upgrading from Geno Smith and the U.S. Open’s new favorite punching bag, Drew Lock. It makes sense to keep it quiet, for multiple reasons. They want to get Mayfield as cheaply as possible, both as to draft picks and compensation. With no one else poised to pull the trigger, and with the chances of the Browns and Mayfield coexisting somewhere south of slim and none, the Browns need two viable suitors in order to get the best possible deal that they can.

Over the weekend, we tried to identify the full universe of teams that could or should be interested in Mayfield, as a better option to the best they currently have at the top of the depth chart. Including the Browns, who absolutely should want to keep Mayfield if they lose Deshaun Watson for the full season, 11 teams should at least be thinking about it.

It’s a combination of chess, checkers, and chicken. Someone will eventually make the move. The Seahawks may simply be waiting for the right time to do so, while maintaining plausible deniability in the event that it doesn’t happen. In their first season post-Russ, they can’t afford to create the impression that they don’t believe in Smith or Lock, if they can’t get Mayfield. But they still don’t want Mayfield badly enough to just get it done and move on.

As the clock ticks toward the start of training camp, something needs to happen. Mayfield doesn’t seem to be inclined to take an excused absence from camp while the Browns wait for a quarterback to get injured and for someone to cough up a first-round pick and more, like the Vikings did for Sam Bradford in 2016, when Teddy Bridgewater suddenly was lost for the season in late August. Mayfield wants to get it done, so that he can commence the process of learning a new offense and a new team and a new coaching staff and a new everything, in order to have the kind of season that will set him up for a new contract.

Will it be Seattle? Will it be some other team that has spent the slow time studying game film and OTA tape and wondering whether Mayfield gives them a better chance to win as many games as possible in 2022?

It can happen at any time. It needs to happen soon, or an awkward situation between the Browns and Mayfield could get downright acrimonious.

That could be what the Seahawks are counting on. That the Browns will cut and run in order to avoid another distraction in an offseason featuring more than a few of them.

Regardless, if someone else truly believes in Mayfield, and if Mayfield is all-in with that team, they should just go ahead and do it. If it works, the extra stuff they have to surrender via trade compensation or salary won’t matter. If they wait too long, it will become harder to make it work -- and they may not get him at all.

Yes, Detroit Lions, I’m talking directly to you.