Cleveland Browns: What if Baker Mayfield is sidelined?

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 23: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns warms up prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 23: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns warms up prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

If Baker Mayfield —God forbid — is sidelined for an extended amount of time, is there a plan to lean on? Or are the Cleveland Browns toast?

What if the unthinkable happens, and Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns is not available for an extended period of time?  Are they toast, or is there a way forward with a backup quarterback?

Currently, Drew Stanton is the number two quarterback, though Garrett Gilbert, the leading quarterback in the ill-fated Alliance of American Football, intends to convince the Browns that he can do a better job. Neither one can remotely be compared to Baker Mayfield, although Gilbert may have some upside potential.

It will be interesting to see how the offense performs with Gilbert under center, and he has a legitimate shot to take Stanton’s job away. However, Stanton has the advantage of having years of experience including a year with the Browns, and that is going to give him an advantage even if he is not the most talented backup.

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In addition to the obvious talent drop-off, the psychological letdown of losing Mayfield would be enormous, especially for the Cleveland fan base which has fallen in love with him after 19 consecutive seasons of ineffective quarterbacking.  The infamous modified Tim Couch jersey had to be retired since there were too many names on it…30 or so starting QBs over the past 20 years.

All fan bases have a quarterback complex, but in Cleveland, it’s worse than other cities because it has been such a dysfunctional position. We seem to have it in our minds that winning is not possible without the “franchise” quarterback.

In reality, any team is usually much better with the number one quarterback, but the number two guy can also win once in a while. History teaches that sometimes the backup quarterback wins the Super Bowl.

Since 1999, when the Browns re-entered the NFL, it has happened with  Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Trent Dilfer (who later quarterbacked the Browns but for some strange reason never won the Super Bowl with them), and most recently Nick Foles. The Philadelphia situation is the most intriguing because they gave up a ton of draft capital to Cleveland for Carson Wentz, who is believed to be an indispensable franchise quarterback, and yet they won without Wentz and without the draft choices.

The front office and coaching staff deserve to be in the Hall of Fame for pulling off that feat, but the point remains that it is possible for a savvy organization to go forward without their best player.  The question is whether the Browns are in that class or not.  Is Drew Stanton as good as Nick Foles?

Drew Stanton was a career won-loss record of 11-6 as a starter, so it must be possible to win with him at the controls. Stanton’s numbers are not that great, with 24 INTs versus 20 TDs, a completion percentage of only 52.4 percent and a career passer rating of 66.3, which is lower than Brandon Weeden‘s rookie rating. That’s very rugged. Yet his reputation is that he stays calm under pressure, and knows how to manage the game even if he does not throw a perfect spiral pass every time.

The Browns cannot depend on Stanton to win by an aerial blitzkrieg like Mayfield, but the Browns are not one-dimensional. If they play defense, they can win with very modest quarterback production. They can hand the ball off more than anyone in the league, with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard and  Duke Johnson all starved for carries.

Hunt is not available for the first eight games due to a suspension, and Duke is better than even money to be traded at some point. Even so, the Browns are able to lead the NFL in running back carries if they want to.  And if Stanton is the number one quarterback, that is what the Browns should want to do.

They also have a fullback in Orson Charles who can help the backs get an extra yard or two. Vastly underrated tight end Demetrius Harris was brought on board because he is the eighth best blocking tight end in the NFL according to Pro Football FocusDavid Njoku and Seth DeValve can catch the ball but are not known for destructive blocking.

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They have the personnel to morph into a ball-control offense featuring two tight ends and a fullback.   In any case, Browns fans are going to get to know the name Demetrius Harris. He’s going to be on the field a lot this year.

As for the receivers, they may have trouble getting open.  A case in point was Rashard Higgins, who in 2017 needed to get “college open” for DeShone Kizer to hit him.  Higgins probably is not fast enough to get “college open” but he has the moves to get “Mayfield open.”

Mayfield needed only a split second and a small target area to consistently hit the same Higgins in 2019, and suddenly made him a major threat when he was on the field.  Higgins’ numbers may be hurt the most if it is necessary to play Stanton. In fact, the faster Antonio Callaway may get extra snaps with Stanton as the quarterback.

Similarly, Jarvis Landry is another guy with fantastic moves and hands but less than fantastic speed. He can get “Mayfield open,”  but he may not be targeted as often with another quarterback.

OBJ, on the other hand, gets’ “college open.”  As long as the run game is respected enough that opposing defenses can not double-cover him, he will get open and catch the ball.  He might not run as many deep routes with Stanton feeding him the ball, but he will still make the spectacular grabs, and might even be more valuable in this situation.

The Browns would not be a threat to lead the NFL in points scored with Drew Stanton as a quarterback, but there is enough talent to win some games and help Stanton have a career year at age 35.

They would have to morph themselves into a run-first team featuring frequent use of two tight ends, with Demetrius Harris assuming a larger role at tight end. Orson Charles would also remain gainfully employed with the team at fullback, which will help Chubb, Hunt, and the change-of-pace backs to gain over 2000 yards on the ground.

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Cleveland also has All-Pro options at wide receiver in OBJ and Jarvis Landry. That’s not bad, even if they use fewer sets with multiple wide receivers.  Drew Stanton would not put the ball up as often as Mayfield, and probably the less he has to do, the better he is going to look.