Mentoring Baker Mayfield: Do the Cleveland Browns need a QB Mentor?

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 26: Drew Stanton
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 26: Drew Stanton /

Should the Cleveland Browns keep Drew Stanton as a backup quarterback since he is a mentor, or do they need someone who can perform better on the field?

Does Baker Mayfield need a “mentor?”  If so, why does Mayfield need one, and do the Cleveland Browns really need to spend $4 Million for Drew Stanton to fill that role?    That is the salary that Stanton is getting to be the backup quarterback and supposedly mentor young Mayfield. This year Stanton is scheduled for a promotion from third string to second string as Tyrod Taylor’s mega-contract is up, and it will be hard to retain a player who is looking for a first string job, which is just not available in Cleveland.

The concept of the quarterback mentor is that he is supposed to be a great teammate and friend to the young player, and willfully pass on knowledge of the game to the kids even though it will probably shorten the mentor’s playing career. He’s a bit like a real-life Shakespearean tragic actor.

Josh McCown probably played that role as well as anyone. McCown was a solid if not spectacular player and really was (and is) ready to do anything for the team. He has been charged with the responsibility to bring along young quarterbacks since the Jay Cutler days in Chicago.  Others he has mentored include Jameis Winston in Tampa, Johnny Manziel and Cody Kessler in Cleveland and now Sam Darnold in New York.

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In the case of Johnny Manziel, despite the supposedly high caliber mentoring from McCown, he will go down in history as one of the worst alcoholics in the history of the league. When the mentoree wears a blonde wig so he can sneak out and drink and not get noticed, maybe the mentor is not such a positive influence after all.   In fact, thinking back to Cutler in Chicago and Winston in Tampa, mentoring did not quite work according to plan.  It is certainly hard to justify spending millions of dollars on a quarterback based on his mentoring skills rather than playing skills.

It may well be that former coach Hue Jackson liked the mentor concept, and felt that the Browns needed someone to replace Josh McCown, who had been exiled to New York in the Sashi Brown era. Otherwise, it is hard to understand why Stanton was signed, especially with a Tyrod Taylor on the team, who could flat out play quarterback if not provide expert mentorship to Baker Mayfield. It is less clear, now that Jackson has moved on, whether John Dorsey still feels the same need to keep a mentor guy on the team, although you could argue that Alex Smith was that guy for Patrick Mahomes in 2017 in Kansas City.

If the quarterback needs a mentor, should that not be the quarterback coach? What is he paid to do, anyway? After all, you can hire an extra coach, or a young ex-quarterback or a psychologist or whoever you think will help, and it will not result in a salary cap charge.

All the rah-rah stuff is great if it is just about keeping the quarterback room positive and engaged. But what if the first string guy goes down, and suddenly the mentor has to go out and do it on the field every Sunday? At the end of the day, the job of the backup quarterback is to back up the quarterback, and he has to be able to lead a playoff team to the playoffs.

Several times in history, the winning team in the Super Bowl has been led by the backup, most recently the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 season with Nick Foles. There are a few other examples that come to mind, including Trent Dilfer, Kurt Warner, and 6th round draft choice Tom Brady.

It’s important to structure the team with strong, positive people in the locker room. But that’s not necessarily limited to the backup quarterback. Hopefully, the Browns continue to hire positive character guys to build around, like Garrett, Chubb, Njoku, Tretter, Zeitler, and others in addition to Baker.

Every once in a while you have to take a chance on some oddball personalities too. It’s not like the backup quarterback has the power to change everyone’s personality. Or if he does, maybe he should be sent to the wide receivers meeting room. Even with Gordon gone, face it,  wide receivers are a little goofy.

So yes your backup QB should be a good teammate, but the same is true for the other positions as well. He does not have to be the Dalai Lama, but for $4 Million dollars, he better throw a good spiral pass.

If the unthinkable happens, and Mayfield goes down for an extended period of time, is Drew Stanton really the guy to lead the Browns to the playoffs?

Stanton’s positives are that he is 11-6 lifetime in the NFL, which is tremendous for a backup, and he’s got decent size, listed at 6-foot-3 and 226-pounds — and he has been around forever. He will be 35 this year, and will be in his 12th NFL campaign. Though he’s old in NFL terms, he seems to be healthy, which is more important. You know what they say, it’s not the age, it’s the mileage.

But his numbers have not been great. Over his career, he has completed only 52.4 percent of his passes and has been under 50 percent each of the last three seasons he played. Those are very unimpressive credentials. Dorsey might prefer to re-sign Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor will probably go to a team where the first string is not Baker Mayfield.

Similarly, most second string QBs around the league looking for a first string job (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Sean Mannion, and others) will no longer be interested in coming to Cleveland. It may be difficult to persuade a capable veteran to come to Cleveland as long as Baker Mayfield is the top Dawg in town. Stanton may be the only realistic veteran option, for better or worse.

Yet GM John Dorsey has had the philosophy of stockpiling quarterbacks. At Kansas City, he signed Nick Foles as a free agent, traded for Alex Smith, drafted Kevin Hogan, and traded up in the draft for Patrick Mahomes. That’s not a bad group.

The draft may be the best path forward for Dorsey to expand his quarterback collection in Cleveland. If there is a guy out there that he likes, Dorsey may pull the trigger in the middle to late rounds of the NFL draft and take another quarterback. That may raise some hackles among the fan base, who might regard a new QB as a threat to Mayfield.  But it is not. The team really does need a backup quarterback.

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The backup quarterback is supposed to throw the football, and any mentoring duties are of secondary importance. Drew Stanton’s job is probably going to depend more on how well he plays and not on his storytelling ability and teaching skills.