Mayfield issued what amounted to a farewell to Cleveland as the Browns pursued a Watson trade in March. He sought to be traded and eventually was accommodated with a July deal to the Panthers.
The Falcons traded Ryan to the Colts, unable or unwilling to repair their relationship with the former league MVP after their failed pursuit of Watson. To replace Ryan, they signed Mariota, the former No. 2 selection in the NFL draft who had been relegated to backup status in the previous two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Browns, knowing they would move on from Mayfield, signed Brissett to back up Watson. Brissett has made 37 career starts for the New England Patriots, Colts and Miami Dolphins.
The NFL schedule-makers cannot take credit for setting up a grudge match between Mayfield and the Watson-less Browns in Week 1. The schedule was released in May. But it worked out that way.
“I think it’s a great storyline,” Mayfield said at a midweek news conference. “Obviously there’s history involved. … Any time you’re playing guys you know, it makes it just more interesting, more fun.”
Mayfield said last week he “didn’t have any say” in the design of the “Off the Leash” T-shirts he recently promoted on social media, seemingly a reference to his separation from the Browns and their “Dawg Pound” fans. He maintained this is not a revenge game.
“I’m grateful for the time I had in Cleveland,” Mayfield said, adding that his Browns tenure ended “abruptly and unexpectedly.”
There is quarterback intrigue leaguewide Sunday. Carson Wentz, traded by the Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles in successive offseasons, makes his Washington Commanders debut. Mitchell Trubisky makes his first start as the Pittsburgh Steelers open the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. And second-year pro Trey Lance debuts as the full-time starter for the San Francisco 49ers, with former starter Jimmy Garoppolo surprisingly still on hand as an alternative.
Lamar Jackson takes the field on the final season of his contract after failing to agree to an extension with the Baltimore Ravens. He faces the New York Jets and Joe Flacco, Baltimore’s former Super Bowl-winning quarterback who’s filling in for Zach Wilson.
Jameis Winston returns from the torn ACL in his left knee that cut short his 2021 season with the New Orleans Saints. The Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones begin make-or-break seasons. Mac Jones’s second NFL season begins after consternation in training camp and the preseason over the lack of clarity about the Patriots’ offensive play-caller.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow and Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert attempt to cement themselves as top MVP contenders. Derek Carr tries to capitalize on the Raiders’ offseason trade for wide receiver Davante Adams. Tom Brady emerges from an offseason in which he retired and then unretired, followed by a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ training camp in which he turned 45 and took an 11-day hiatus.
But perhaps no quarterback would savor a big performance and a victory Sunday more than Mayfield, no matter how hard he tried to say the right things publicly in recent days.
“It’d mean that I came here and did what I was trying to do,” Mayfield said. “I came here to win ballgames.”