Rid yourself of the fantasy that Baker Mayfield and the Browns will reconcile. It's pure imagination that the Browns will turn back to Mayfield to help them through however long the period of the expected Deshaun Watson punishment will be.

The Browns did the math in March. They knew getting Watson meant burning the bridge with Mayfield. It's over and done with.

But Mayfield is still under the Browns' employ, and even if there's an interested party in Carolina (and a somewhat interested party in Seattle), if both sides wanted the deal to be done, it'd be done by now.

The sticking point in Carolina is and has been the salary. Panthers owner David Tepper won't pay all of Mayfield's $18.85 million in guaranteed money this season. I'm not sure he'd even pay half, especially considering he's paying the same amount to Sam Darnold.

If Mayfield wants out -- I mean really wants out -- an option exists where he could take a pay cut.

"That's a lot of pride to swallow," one source said of the idea.

A quarterback taking a pay cut to facilitate a trade is a familiar one to the Panthers. They did it just more than a year ago.

Teddy Bridgewater originally signed a three-year, $63 million deal in 2020. The Panthers paid out $24 million in Year 1 but got out before the 2021 NFL Draft. Bridgewater agreed to a significant pay cut in order to facilitate a trade out of Carolina.

The Panthers sent Bridgewater to the Broncos in exchange for a sixth-round pick and agreed to pay the majority of his contract for 2021. With the old deal, Bridgewater would have made $17 million in base salary in the 2021 season and $20 million in base salary the following year. With the new deal, Bridgewater had the final year of his deal chopped off and had his salary reduced to $11.5 million. Carolina paid more than $7 million of that.

Mayfield could do something similar. He could drop his base salary down to the low teens, have the Browns pay the majority of it and the Panthers pick up the remaining $4 million to $6 million while sending a Day 3 draft pick to Cleveland. This would accomplish three things: Get Mayfield out of Cleveland, give the Browns some money back and get the Panthers a starting quarterback.

If this were to happen, I could see a deal getting done by the end of next week when minicamps and OTAs are complete. The Browns don't want this dragging on into training camp where Mayfield would have to report to camp. As much as Cleveland wants to hold on to Mayfield for better compensation should an injury happen to another team's starter during camp, having this unnecessary distraction go on while they deal with their acceptable distraction of Watson isn't how they want camp to go.