With the Browns’ season now officially over, it’s time to evaluate and identify what went wrong in Cleveland this past season. That includes a long look at quarterback Baker Mayfield.
What if before the season started I told you that the Cleveland Browns would not even make the playoffs? You wouldn’t believe me. You would call me crazy and likely be furious at such a bold prediction.
But this is what happened as an 11-5 campaign was followed with an 8-9 clunker where we really saw the offense struggle and the quarterback seemed to regress. Naturally, this led to a lot of questions about the man under center.
First off, is Baker Mayfield the worst starting quarterback in the National Football League? No, not even close. Is Mayfield a top 10-15 quarterback? I’d give you the same answer after last season — no, not even close.
Now, I understand there are a lot of Mayfield supporters. Yes, he brought the Browns to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years last season and even got the franchise a playoff win since 1994. Does he deserve some credit for this? Yes, absolutely he does.
Now, an excuse that many supporters often times have brought up this season is that Mayfield has been hurt so you can’t judge his play because of it. Well, yes you can and maybe it even goes deeper than that.
Don’t get me wrong, Mayfield is a really tough dude. But a smart player would acknowledge the fact that he’s so badly injured that it will impact his play. However, this was not the case for Mayfield. He was getting praised for being so tough but continued to go out there and perform as one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league.
Even offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt admitted recently that Mayfield’s harness (he wears on his injured shoulder) is hindering his mechanics and ability to throw the ball. Van Pelt said:
"“It has definitely handcuffed him [Baker Mayfield] a little bit with his ability to get that left side out of the way.” He continued, “But it is definitely something that has hindered him. We have a lot of respect for the fact that he has battled through that, we know he’s injured.” — Van Pelt said via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com"
Why is it acceptable to play a guy who’s injured and hindering his ability to throw the football… that is blasphemy.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Mayfield have a full recovery after his shoulder surgery and lead the Browns to the Super Bowl but is that a realistic possibility? Could Baker be that guy to lead his team to a Super Bowl?
Did Baker Mayfield affect the head coach?
Don’t run to blame head coach Kevin Stefanski and his playcalling, either. Could it have been better? Of course. But you need to understand that his playcalling was limited due to Baker and his injury.
Stefanski couldn’t call plays that would get Mayfield hurt so he was calling plays in a limited fashion. There were times when Mayfield was so severely injured that the Browns were unable to run quarterback sneaks on short-yardage situations and times where Mayfield would sense pressure and immediately go down. Again, limiting options for Stefanski and single-handedly setting the team back.
Stefanski was brought into Cleveland to implement his wide-zone scheme which is widely known as a system that makes quarterbacks look better than they actually are. Look at Detriot Lions quarterback Jared Goff as an example.
He went to a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams and is now having a horrible season in Detroit – a different scheme. Not to take away from any of Baker’s success but a majority of quarterbacks could’ve come into a situation where you have one of the best supporting casts in the NFL and play a little above average as Mayfield did last season.
Baker has shown glimpses of talent but never shown those characteristics that the best quarterbacks in this league can do. The Browns’ roster is built to win the whole thing right now and they cannot afford to sit and wait for Mayfield to hopefully develop these characteristics.
The biggest flaw in his game has to be his inability to produce in the two-minute drill and when the game is on the line. The best quarterbacks step up and drive down the field to either give your kicker a chance to tie/win it or your offense a chance to score a touchdown for the win. We have seen all too many times cases of Mayfield turning the ball over in these situations.
There’s no questioning the fact that Mayfield had a great 2020 season but after seeing his play in 2021, how can we back up a quarterback who just has bad seasons. A bad game or two is more than acceptable but he had an off-year.
So far Mayfield had a good rookie season in 2018, a poor sophomore season in 2019, a good season in 2020, and now a poor season in 2021.
Is Baker Mayfield a franchise quarterback?
Is this what fans want in a “franchise” quarterback? A Super Bowl roster cannot afford to have an average quarterback who is going to be great every other season. That just can’t happen.
Andrew Berry and the front office should absolutely explore other options at quarterback. Trying to aggressively acquire guys like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Deshaun Watson (if his legal troubles are resolved), or any other capable quarterback would be wise and give the Browns a boost to ultimately reach their final goal.
If the front office is unable to acquire any of those veteran quarterbacks then that is where you run into a dilemma. I don’t see the Browns making a lateral type move. In other words, I doubt they make a move for a quarterback who is so similar to Mayfield.
At that point, they would maybe be better off just drafting a rookie and hoping for the best which I don’t see this franchise doing quite yet. Mayfield will be playing on his fifth-year extension next season and there has never been a quarterback to get a long-term extension after playing on that option. If a divorce is in the future either way, maybe a rookie quarterback as a plan B wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world instead of delaying the inevitable.
It just seems like everything needs to be perfect around Mayfield in order for him to succeed but once some sort of adversity hits, things start going downhill for him.
Sure, they have said the right things about Baker Mayfield including the statement that he will be the starter in 2022. However, the front office would be foolish not to explore the above options especially given how up and down the past four years have been.