When Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield is involved, no one seems to be thinking straight.
In the long run, this Cleveland Browns fan believes that coach Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Baker Mayfield are capable of bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Cleveland, but in the short run, everyone involved with Baker Mayfield has been acting totally nuts.
Perhaps in the season finale versus the Cincinnati Bengals, we may see Stefanski take off his windbreaker, strip to the waist, and run out of the stadium like Antonio Brown did last week, because Stefanski is about as crazy as AB in matters concerning his favorite quarterback.
Mayfield is finally being shut down and sent to the surgeon’s office to see if there’s anything left in his left shoulder that can be reassembled into a human being. We kind of expect quarterbacks to try to play while missing important body parts.
Football players are not sane, and Mayfield, in particular, has a very high ability to tolerate pain. He is hyper-aggressive and does not accept reasonable limitations. He’s ready to risk permanent injury to play football for the Cleveland Browns. All that is commendable and speaks well of his fighting spirit, but not his sanity.
It’s perfectly acceptable to have an insane lunatic at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, but in this case, he simply was not able to play effectively. Baker Mayfield was not able to throw accurately while wearing that body brace that holds his body together. Can we finally admit that?
Kevin Stefanski is paid to be the grown-up but failed to shut Mayfield down. He needed to make the difficult observation that Mayfield was hurting the team but could not bring himself to do so, and instead, let Mayfield ruin the Browns season. That was insane.
As for us writers, those of us who believe that Mayfield’s performance is the same with or without surgery, that is also insane. We went through this with Joe Haden, remember? After Haden struggled to play a season with two torn groin muscles requiring surgery back in 2016, Sashi Brown wanted to cut him and absorb $11 million worth of cap charges in order to recover $4 million.
That made a tidy down payment for the Pittsburgh Steelers to sign him at an enormous discount. The Browns fan base gloated about how Browns young star receiver Corey Coleman was going to torch Haden — and Coleman actually did score one touchdown on old Joe in the season opener in 2017.
But that was five seasons ago, and it’s probably time to admit that the surgery helped Haden play better. The Browns did not quite have a big year in 2017, or at least not in a positive way. Can we be big enough to admit that now?
By the same token, if the surgeons find enough spare parts in Mayfield’s shoulder so that he can lose the body brace, there’s no reason that he cannot return to his form of 2020, when the Browns went 12-6, beat Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the playoffs 48-37, and nearly toppled the Kansas City Chiefs.
Baker Mayfield does not stink. He may not be Aaron Rodgers, but there are 31 teams that have to learn to play football without Aaron Rodgers, and football teams don’t just throw away quarterbacks because they are not Aaron Rodgers. That is a special form of insanity as well.
While we are handing out report cards, Mayfield agents Jack and Tom Mills are insane for not coming up with some long-term agreement for their client, though possibly this is their client’s wish based on his megalomania. The buzz has been that Browns’ management wanted to have additional time to evaluate Mayfield.
Foolishly, the Mills brothers caved and let Andrew Berry have his way. Possibly this was due to Mayfield’s unfounded and insane hope for a huge contract that would match Josh Allen’s, so the thought was that deferring a decision might allow Mayfield to have an MVP-caliber season and earn more money. But it’s also possible that the client might also end up injured and lose leverage, which is what has happened.
In any case, Baker is not getting Josh Allen dollars. That doesn’t mean he is worth zero dollars or that his value is impossible to determine. Both of these alternatives are equally dysfunctional and examples of flawed reasoning. The agents’ job is to come up with a long-term deal of some sort, and they should not have let their client take the field without it.
If there was wider uncertainty about how good Mayfield was, that can be handled in the contract. That could mean, for example, a lower amount of guaranteed dollars, or a higher percentage of incentive bonuses, or perhaps a shorter extension with an escalating non-guaranteed salary incentive that Mayfield would have to either earn or risk getting cut.
The point is that there are ways that an intelligent agent could structure a contract proposal that could fit the situation. Instead, everyone seemed thrilled that no deal was even attempted. The agents didn’t do their job, and Mayfield thought it was great because he had a one-in-a-million shot at getting Josh Allen dollars.
Remember, Mayfield was the double walk-on in college who won the Heisman. He likes impossible one-in-a-million challenges. The agents’ job, however, is to guarantee the future of the Mayfield grandchildren. It may not be easy to get their client to do something sensible, but that’s what they are paid for. They failed, and the interests of the client and the team have not been served.
What’s truly amazing is that by pursuing the fifth-year option route, the Browns will actually have a higher cap charge for Mayfield in 2022 than the Bills charge for Josh Allen, $18.9 million versus $16.4 million, because the Bills get to defer salary cap charges on the long-term deal. Does it make sense that the Browns are on the hook for more money than the Bills are paying for Josh Allen? If not, maybe Andrew Berry and the Mills brothers ought to do what they are paid for and work something out.
By the way, if anyone wants to compare Mayfield’s situation to Lamar Jackson’s situation, Lamar Jackson is a future Hall of Fame player, but by acting as his own agent he is even more insane than Mayfield. Jackson needs to fire his agent (himself) for sure and hire a true pro. Maybe Lamar ought to read Agent You by Nicole Lynn and get some ideas on how to proceed. Otherwise, this could be a multimillion-dollar disservice to himself.
In the long run, coach Stefanski and his quarterback Baker Mayfield are the right answer for the Cleveland Browns. This season, however, they really screwed up by trying too hard. Mayfield should have been shut down months ago when it was apparent that he could not throw accurately.
For those who are still in denial and believing the false narrative that the body brace does not impede Mayfield’s accuracy, Alex Van Pelt may be the only sane person, and admitted that Mayfield is not nearly his normal self.
"“It definitely shows. It’s definitely handcuffed him a little bit with his ability to get that left side out of the way….But hopefully next year without the harness you’ll see Baker back to normal with his normal throwing mechanics. But it’s definitely something that’s hindered him, he’s fought through. Got a lot of respect for the fact that he’s battled through that, we know he’s injured. That’s where I’ll leave that.” — Alex Van Pelt, quoted by Mary Kay Cabot, Cleveland.com, Dec. 31, 2021."
Troy Aikman said the same thing on national television versus Green Bay. He might know something about quarterbacking.
Equally insane behavior is that Mayfield has shunned Nick Chubb as the safety valve in the flat all season long. Through Week 17, As has been pointed out several times in this space in recent weeks, when Nick Chubb is in the game, Mayfield just does not throw the ball to him, with only 24 targets to Chubb, despite 19 receptions, a completion percentage of 79.2.
Mayfield has the second-highest sack percentage in the NFL at 9.3. Perhaps that’s not a coincidence. We get it that the Browns love to throw the ball downfield, but when the result is sacks, INTs, and tipped passes, perhaps the humble halfback pass is a very sane concept and should be explored in much greater detail next season.
The thought process goes pretty much like this. “Let’s see, I’ve got T.J. Watt about to smash me to bits, or I could toss the ball to Chubb. What should I do? Why, let Watt smash me to bits, of course!” That’s a very good definition of insanity.
In the long run, there’s still an opportunity for the front office, coaching staff, Mayfield, and his agents to converge on a sane approach to professional football for 2022 and beyond. In the short run, however, they have all disappointed the ownership group and the fans by their dysfunctional and self-destructive approach to the 2021 season.
A surgeon can repair Mayfield’s left shoulder. A sports psychologist should also be brought on board to determine why everyone has been so dysfunctional this season in their behavior. It has not been mentally or emotionally healthy at all.