Baker Mayfield has no margin for error in his third year with Cleveland.
If Baker Mayfield throws a ton of picks this year, it’ll be the end of the line for him in Cleveland.
The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner had a terrific rookie season with the 2018 Cleveland Browns. His team overachieved and were a sneaky pick to qualify for the NFL playoffs last year. However, his team regressed and Mayfield became an interception-throwing machine in Freddie Kitchens’ lone year as the Cleveland head coach. 2020 must be different for Mayfield and the Browns.
On ESPN’s Get Up Friday morning, former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum said he believes Mayfield will be on a “very short leash” this season and “As soon as those picks start, he will be on the sidelines.”
For Tannenbaum to say Mayfield could get benched in his third year out of Oklahoma certainly raises a few eyebrows. Though it seems strange for the Browns to do that with the presumptive face of their franchise, keep in mind new Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry didn’t draft him and new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t in Cleveland the last two years.
Could Baker Mayfield get benched in 2020 by the Cleveland Browns?
Though Berry and Stefanski don’t have anywhere near the attachment to Mayfield as their predecessors of Kitchens, Hue Jackson and John Dorsey did, the new Browns regime won’t want to bench their starting quarterback unless they feel they absolutely have to. It might be their first years on the job, but Cleveland has the talent to contend for an AFC Wild Card berth already.
So while benching Mayfield seems considerably premature, Tannenbaum did make a few great points that parlay into other reasons why it could theoretically happen. Stefanski comes from the Minnesota Vikings organization, which was a defense-first team under head coach Mike Zimmer. They love to pound the rock in Minneapolis so they can use the ground game to open up the pass.
Tannenbaum mentioning Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throwing very few interceptions last season in his second Pro Bowl campaign out of Michigan State. So we should expect Stefanski to run his offense in Cleveland similarly to that in Minnesota. Look for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to get a ton of carries, while Mayfield and the passing offense plays off that.
Simply put, Cleveland has too many offensive weapons for Mayfield to be inherently reckless with the football again. He has three Pro Bowlers in his receiving corps in Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and tight end Austin Hooper. Cleveland has a dominant running game and upgraded both tackle positions with Jack Conklin coming over in free agency and Jedrick Wills Jr. in the NFL Draft.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, Stefanski has a strong previous working relationship with Mayfield’s backup in Case Keenum. Back in 2017, Keenum helped the Vikings go 13-3 en route to an NFC Championship game appearance. That Vikings roster was about as loaded as what the Browns could have this year. Keenum won’t turn the ball over if given the opportunity to start.
So either way, we’re going to see the Browns offense run like a finely-tuned machine. The run will open up the pass and the quarterback throwing the ball, whether that be Mayfield, Keenum or somebody else, will not be allowed to throw interceptions or turn it over. There is no margin for error here in the Cleveland quarterback room. It’s Mayfield’s job to lose, but he has to lose it first.
If Mayfield plays closer to what he did in 2018 than he did in 2019, he’s not going to get benched.