The Cleveland Browns have a significant decision looming over their heads, and quarterback Baker Mayfield is not making it easier on them.
We are now into the fourth season since Mayfield was taken first overall, and now it is getting close to the time the Browns need to pony up or move on. The decision would be much easier to make, however, if Mayfield could find even a shred of consistency.
While Mayfield started his career out with a bang, nearly winning the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, he has not been able to progress from that season. In fact, statistically speaking, his rookie year may be his best year, as his completion percentage (63.8), yards per attempt (7.7) and touchdown passes (27) remain career highs over his three full seasons.
And this year, the Browns seem to be staring directly at the same quarterback they drafted with the first overall pick in 2018. Little progress, little improvement, and the signs of a capped-out gunslinger.
The big arm of Mayfield is well documented, as he can thread a football into just about every window. However, the rest of his game has lacked consistency. His eyes are frequently agitated when he’s forced off of his initial spot, and his feet follow the same suit. His accuracy has been spotty at best, which is staggering as that was the main draw to his game coming out of Oklahoma.
At this current juncture, Mayfield’s accuracy is just slightly above the league average (78.6) with a well-thrown percentage (WT%) of 79.5, though he ranks behind the likes of Trevor Siemian (79.8), Sam Darnold (80.0), Davis Mills (80.3), Mike White (81.7) and Case Keenum (82.6). And last season, Mayfield finished below the league average (78.0) with a WT% of 76.4.
Has Mayfield at least been efficient? Sure, he does what the Browns tend to ask of him, and thrives when everything is in place. However, the play of Mayfield has rarely elevated the play of those around him the way one would expect a first overall pick to do.
If the Browns stay in front of the scoreboard and of the sticks, Mayfield plays fine, feeling no pressure to put the team on his back. Having the presence of the NFL’s top offensive line and running back duo help the Browns and Mayfield stay on schedule.
However, when the Browns fall behind the sticks, get stuck in third-and-mediums, or have to claw back on the scoreboard, Mayfield has not proven to be a capable difference maker. In fact, on throws of at least 9.0 air yards per attempt, Mayfield’s WT% plummets to 63.5, which is 22nd in the NFL among those who have thrown at least 60 such passes.
And this is where the problem lies for both him and the Browns.
What separates Mayfield from a game manager? What pulls him out of the same category of a Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, or Alex Smith? What about Mayfield’s play thus far warrants a long-term contract extension worth upwards of $40 million?
At this point, even Cousins – second in the league in WT% on throws of at least 9.0 air yards and ninth overall in WT% – has played like the preferable quarterback between the two.
This all came to a collision in Week 10 when the Browns got dismantled by the New England Patriots by a score of 45-7. Without Nick Chubb, the Browns placed the success of their offense squarely in the hands of Mayfield; he did not answer the bell.
Point blank: If a team is financially strapping themselves to a quarterback, they have to have complete trust in that player to elevate the success of their offense when the rest of the circumstances are not ideal.
Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl with Mike McCarthy as his head coach. Josh Allen has gotten better every year despite the presence of a top run game. Deshaun Watson (the player) had the best season of his career under Bill O’Brien and the tumultuous year it was in Houston in 2020.
Mayfield has not earned the trust required to take on a massive financial investment. It’s discussed frequently how teams should avoid paying a subpar quarterback (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz) too early. The Browns cannot fall into that same situation.
Wisely, they have been willing to push the pause button on contract talks with Mayfield. The Browns did not give him the extension this season, and have reportedly not had discussions thus far in 2021. The good news for the team is that Mayfield is still under contract heading into 2022 as well.
However, this leaves another concern for the Andrew Berry-led front office in Cleveland. While Mayfield is under contract, can the Browns really afford to risk another year with their championship roster by giving the Mayfield experience another year?
Their window is firmly open to pursue a Super Bowl, however, they have seemingly gone as far as Mayfield can take them on a week-to-week basis. Short of a Matt Stafford-to-the-Rams type trade, the Browns do not have a ton of options moving forward.
Quarterbacks slated to enter the 2022 NFL Draft combine for one of the worst classes in recent years, and the Browns may not be in a position to even land one of the top guys. This leaves a trade should Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski be willing.
Could Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers make an appearance in trade talks again? Will a current young backup like Jordan Love be intriguing to the Browns?
The Browns are not in a great spot short of a miracle. Do they pay him, do they ride out the contract of Mayfield, or do they make a drastic move? A championship roster and a closing window make for an interesting offseason within the Browns organization.
Graphic design by Ruben Diaz.