After the two-decade-long quarterback carousel from hell, the Cleveland Browns find themselves in an unfamiliar, yet welcome position this offseason. They have to decide what to do with their quarterback’s, Baker Mayfield, contract.
Mayfield was drafted first overall in the 2018 draft, a class that has seen fellow quarterbacks Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson exceed expectations brilliantly as Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen have done the opposite. In that collection of players, it’s safe to say that Mayfield has found himself square in the middle.
Baker Mayfield contract 2021
Jackson has won an MVP award and Josh Allen was close last season. On top of that, both players clearly possess electrifying talent. For a quarterback who is in search of a similar type of deal to Jackson and Allen, Mayfield’s career path thus far has been a tad bit bumpier.
After bursting onto the scene in Week Three of the 2018 season, Mayfield showed plenty of promise leading the Browns to a respectable 7-8-1 record.
The sheer euphoria felt by many Browns fans at the time of Baker’s emergence should not be understated. After toiling away in the doldrums of the NFL for the last two decades, Mayfield showing baseline competence as a rookie came as a wave of relief and optimism for Browns fans everywhere. As a result, there’s a deep emotional resonance tied to Mayfield which leads to some Browns fans oversell Mayfield’s merits.
Jump forward to the end of the 2019 season and the wave of optimism has crashed down over Baker and the Browns, leading to a confusing, opaque whirlpool of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback. The Browns finished 6-10 with Mayfield underperforming considerably.
Poor organization decisions have hurt Mayfield
Now, the poor performances by Mayfield in 2019 were by no means his fault alone. It’s important to remember that, up until very recently, the Browns are a rotten organisation and the first two years of Mayfield’s career fell victim to the rot.
So Baker Mayfield is a “system QB” even though last year he had his 3rd system in 3 years?
— Joey Kinsley/Sir Yacht (@SirYacht_) June 28, 2021
Hindsight is 20/20, but the decision to appoint Freddie Kitchens, a man who only a year prior was the Browns’ running backs coach, as head coach in 2019 was misguided. A Kitchens led passing scheme centred around a deep, vertical passing game did not compliment Baker, or the Browns shoddy offensive line, in the slightest.
Per Sports Info Solutions, Mayfield finished the 2019 season ranked second in interceptions (21), first in sacks taken (40) and the lowest completion percentage of his career (59.4). The decision to appoint Freddie Kitchens as head coach, a man with zero experience at that level, combined with a lacklustre offensive scheme and too high of expectations painted a dark picture for Mayfield’s career coming out of 2019.
Flash forward to today and, once again, the pendulum of Mayfield’s career has taken another drastic swing.
This past season, Mayfield played a huge role in the Browns reaching the AFC Divisional Round – a game that the Browns feel hard-done-by not to have won. Moreover, the young gunslinger led the Browns in a play-off victory over bitter rivals Pittsburgh Steelers. We know that the post-season stage isn’t too big for Baker.
Furthermore, 2020 saw Baker take a large step forward statistically. After star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went down with a season-ending ACL injury in Week Seven, Mayfield stepped up to the plate. From the time Beckham went down, Mayfield proceeded to show great poise and improved decision making – two attributes in which he had been lacking thus far – while maintaining his aggressiveness. Mayfield only threw one interception from Week Nine on.
The head coaching of Kevin Stefanski clearly paid dividends for Mayfield.
Per Pro Football Reference, Baker ended the season with only 8 interceptions and 26 sacks taken, a remarkable difference from the year prior (21, 40). The Browns finished the season 11-5 with a play-off victory. Stefanski’s west-coast, play-action based passing game suited Baker tremendously and helped rain in some of those wild throws which Mayfield was getting a reputation for.
So, Mayfield’s career thus far has been erratic. A promising start was followed by a huge disappointment, only to be accompanied by a huge success. This makes the upcoming decision for Andrew Berry and the rest of the Browns front office all the more difficult.
The one knock on Mayfield which is a real cause for concern is his lack of athleticism. There’s no getting away from it, Mayfield is a small guy. Standing at just about 6’0ft flat, Mayfield doesn’t possess the speed of Kyler Murray nor the accuracy and cerebral ability of a Drew Brees. Athletically, compared to Allen and Jackson, Mayfield just doesn’t compete.
How good can Baker be?
Can Mayfield win a Super Bowl? Sure, accompanied by a star supporting cast, both offensively and defensively, Baker can at least reach the Super Bowl and even win it.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that level of quarterback, the Browns, of all organisations, know that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to finding talent at the quarterback position. But when that Super Bowl window is open and all you need is that extra 10 per cent from your quarterback to get you over the line – Mayfield may come up short. And we’ve seen with the 49ers, trading the house for a potentially generational talent in Trey Lance, you have to get the guy to get over the line.
The smart play for the Browns would be to pick up Mayfield’s fifth-year option, see how he plays this upcoming season and if, best case scenario, Mayfield balls out, you bite the bullet and pay him next year. However, by doing this, you run the risk of the Bills paying Allen and the Ravens paying Jackson exorbitant deals. As a result, the Browns could find themselves in an even stickier position next year when it comes to forking up the cash.
Either way, Baker is going to get paid. But it’s up to Berry and the Browns to not let the heart rule the head and lock themselves into a quarterback who could just be a guy and not the guy.