Don’t believe the noise. Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield may squabble but they still love each other and will be back. Probably.
Kevin Stefanski will coach the Cleveland Browns next season and Baker Mayfield will be the starting quarterback, despite the recent spat reported by Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com —which was denied by Mayfield — and despite the claims that Mayfield had asked for a trade if changes are not made in the offensive philosophy next season.
Moreover, Mayfield will stay even though he couldn’t hit the broadside of a stadium this season after tearing up his left shoulder and being forced to wear a body brace that limited his throwing motion. On the surface, it was a poor decision to let Mayfield play hero ball and throw it downfield instead of restricting the play selection to short, high-percentage passes and runs by the league’s best trio of runners in Nick Chubb, D’Ernest Johnson, and Kareem Hunt.
Cleveland is built to be a run-first team, not a Mike Martz run-n-shoot team. The result was sacks, incompletions, interceptions, and ultimately losses. So how can such terrible decision-making be justified?
It’s because the alternative was even worse. Let’s suppose Kevin Stefanski had sat down Baker Mayfield and installed Case Keenum as the starter after the injury. The press would have killed him and Mayfield wouldn’t have been thrilled with being sat down either.
Remember, versus Arizona on October 16, Baker tossed the longest completion since NextGen Stats started recording stats, a bomb that traveled 66.4 yards in the air. He still had the arm strength, it was just the subjective accuracy that he had lost. Stefanski would look foolish for benching him at that point.
A rule of thumb in the NFL is if the player wants to play, and the doctor says he can play, the coach should play him. So imagine, just for a moment, if Stefanski had pulled the plug on Mayfield against his will, what kind of circus would have ensued? Let’s be honest. We fans and especially those of us in the media would have skewered Stefanski. This would have been the biggest quarterback controversy in Cleveland history by far.
Let’s also talk about play calling. Many fans talk about play calling without specifying what is meant. What plays do you folks want to have called? Football plays don’t always work, and firing the coach does not provide an automatic solution.
Hasn’t firing the coach been tried a few times in Cleveland? If that was so easy, it would have worked by now. No, the current coaching staff should be given a chance to evolve better play calls with a healthy quarterback and see if that doesn’t raise their IQ a few points.
As it is, Stefanski has shown loyalty to Mayfield to a fault. No way is Andrew Berry going to trade him away. This is the guy Stefanski wants. It is one thousand percent clear.
Baker Mayfield set for surgery
This presumes that they get a positive report back from the surgeon. The presumption that Mayfield has not done permanent damage to himself by playing when he definitely should not have. Can that torn labrum be sewn back together? Will it heal well enough for him to take hits in the NFL again without wearing a brace, or will he have to wear that thing for the rest of his career?
As sportswriters, sometimes we’re forced to be amateur research scientists or orthopedic surgeons, but we really don’t know much about what we are talking about. In this case, Lord knows what happens to a torn labrum and fractured humerus when you play 12 additional games of NFL football in that condition.
The presumption is that he can be brought close enough to normal that he can throw normally with his right arm, and that the body brace is not going to be needed again, but we need to hear from the surgeon. Will he indeed be strong enough to take a sack?
Of course, the real power in the organization is held by general manager Andrew Berry and backed by Dee Haslam (who seems to have taken the reins from her husband). Andrew is young but appears to be determined to not overpay for the quarterback. We have not heard from Dee yet. She is a bit like Captain Horatio Hornblower, remaining totally calm on deck as cannonballs are falling everywhere.
Since she has taken the wheel, she does not seem likely to start throwing people overboard without great provocation. It’s hard to take the rumors of coach firing and quarterback purging seriously.
However, she also understands the value of a dollar. The lack of a long-term contract is a lose-lose situation for the Cleveland Browns. She might well ask, why are the Cleveland Browns being charged $18.9 million against the 2022 salary cap for Mayfield, while the Buffalo Bills are being charged $16.4 million for Josh Allen?
That’s because Mayfield is on a one-year option, and Allen has a long-term extension with a built-in discount up front. How will the Browns win with a short-term commitment to an overpriced asset? This doesn’t sound like a good business proposition.
Baker’s money is guaranteed, by the way, so it’s not clear that any NFL team is ready to trade draft picks and assume his salary without a long-term option. That seems very far-fetched. Is Freddie Kitchens going to become head coach of the Giants or something? Honestly, who would even consider it?
Mayfield’s value is lower now than it has ever been. But the way to win in moneyball is to buy when prices are low, not wait for prices to rise to the top five level or so, and then buy, which was the official story last offseason. That made no sense.
This is a good time for the organization to make the point that the organization believes in Baker Mayfield, but they aren’t going to overpay. This is not a bad time for some organizational hardball at the negotiating table.
No huge salary, no hero ball. Run the Stefanski offense and hand the ball off to Nick Chubb and throw it to the tight end. If you throw an interception, let someone else make the tackle. Can you handle that, Baker? If so, the team may be looking at a very modest deal, much smaller than what would have been offered last offseason.
If a multi-year deal cannot be reached, obviously, those resources will have to be applied towards another individual’s contract. But that is not the Browns’ plan. No, very likely the coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback will all be back.
The Browns are going to have a run-first, cold weather, playoff-oriented, power football team next season, and Baker Mayfield is just the right person to run that offense.