CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Baker Mayfield didn’t deny he wants to beat the Cleveland Browns in the Carolina Panthers‘ Sept. 11 opener at Bank of America Stadium, but he did deny saying he wants to “f— them up” after last week’s preseason finale against Buffalo.
That contradicted what NFL Network analyst Cynthia Frelund shared on Monday night’s “Around the NFL” podcast with Dan Hanzus, Marc Sessler and Gregg Rosenthal.
Frelund shared on the podcast and repeated to ESPN.com that she talked to Mayfield after the Panthers’ 21-0 victory and said that Mayfield repeated her words when she playfully told him to “f— them up.”
“He echoed it back,” Frelund told ESPN.com. “It was very innocuous on his part. The tone was gracious and happy and excited.”
Mayfield denied making any such comment about the team that made him the top pick of the 2018 draft after Wednesday’s practice.
“First, I didn’t say it,” said Mayfield, who spent the past four years in Cleveland. “Everybody is going to write whatever story they want. There’s history because I played there the last four years. I’m an extremely competitive person. Everybody knows that. If I wasn’t wanting to win, then there would be a really big issue of me being the quarterback here.
“I want to win in everything I do. That’ll never change. But it’s not how I phrased it. It’s not even what I said, so let’s leave it at that.”
Mayfield acknowledged he has known Frelund, who was the Bills sideline reporter for that game, for years. He acknowledged Frelund was “descriptive” in what she said about him beating Cleveland.
But he was adamant that’s not how the exchange occurred.
“I didn’t even say anything,” Mayfield said. “All I did was, ‘Great, hope we win.’ Pretty plain and simple. I’m competitive. I want to win. I don’t think that should be harped on.
“That’s the extent of it. It’s obviously a bigger story because I haven’t given the media what they’ve wanted me to give them this year in this offseason.”
Mayfield has chosen his words carefully the past month and a half since the Panthers acquired him in a trade from Cleveland after the Browns moved forward with Deshaun Watson, acquired in a trade with Houston.
Asked last week after being named the starter over Sam Darnold how he felt facing his former team in the opener, Mayfield said, “Obviously, there’s a lot of attachment there. I’m not going to sit here and be a robot and say it doesn’t mean anything. It will.”
But Mayfield refused to put too much significance on one game out of 17.
“It’s a great storyline,” he said Wednesday. “It really is because I wasn’t expected to be out of Cleveland. But after Week 1, there’s 16 more that really, really matter. That’s how I’m approaching it.”
Frelund downplayed the exchange Tuesday on Twitter, saying it was “playful” and that the reaction to Mayfield’s quote was “silly.”
Oh boy, this is silly. Don’t make this more than it is. I was wishing him good luck, colorfully. He agreed with me, colorfully. What do you expect anyone to do in this situation… #browns
— cynthia frelund (@cfrelund) August 30, 2022
Frelund told ESPN.com she “shouldn’t have shared a private conversation.” She reiterated Mayfield only was echoing her words when she told him to “f— them up.”
Frelund said she reached out to apologize to Mayfield after the reaction on social media reached a level she described as a “s—storm.” She said his manager responded.
“They would have preferred I didn’t say it,” Frelund said. “They’ve worked very hard to be very mindful of this. I believe it was very clear my intentions and the actual contents of what was said was made clear and that it was taken out of context.”
Before Mayfield’s denial, his comment already had reached the Cleveland locker room. Browns defensive end Myles Garrett told Cleveland.com, “We’ll take it and we’ll use it.”
“I don’t think any less of him, because he’s going out there and doing the same thing he did when he was with us,” Garrett said. “He’s the same guy personally, and maybe we’ll see a different Baker when we get on the field. Who knows?”
The Browns are aware of Mayfield’s sometimes outlandish comments and antics, such as grabbing his crotch and yelling “f— you” at the Kansas Jayhawks in college because he was upset about being snubbed by a player during the coin toss and later taking a late hit to the head during the game.
Mayfield also took a shot at former NFL coach and ESPN analyst Rex Ryan on social media after Ryan said Mayfield was “overrated as hell.”
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen in March reported one reason Cleveland was willing to move on from Mayfield and trade for Watson was it wanted an “adult” at the position.
“We’ve known he has that type of demeanor and that attitude, and for better or for worse, it works for him,” Garrett said. “And I’m not mad at him using that fire and that chip on his shoulder to help him play to the level he has. He’s been successful in what he’s done.”
Said Mayfield of Garrett’s comment: “That’s a person I played with for four years, so he knows how I’m wired, how I compete every single day. That’s to be expected.”
Mayfield said he had no idea his exchange with Frelund had taken on a life of its own until somebody told him, explaining that he is currently off social media.
“So it being brought to my attention was shocking to me,” he said. “It’s frustrating in the sense that’s not the way it happened. But at the same time you’ve just got to move forward. People are going to say what they want.”