Does a bad 2020 season make Baker Mayfield the next Mitchell Trubisky?
The Cleveland Browns used their No. 1 overall pick in 2018 on the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback out of the University of Oklahoma. After an impressive rookie year in Cleveland, Mayfield and the Browns massively underwhelmed and major organizational changes came this offseason. Kevin Stefanski is the new head coach and Andrew Berry is the new general manager.
On ESPN’s Get Up Thursday morning, Mike Greenberg, Mike Tannenbaum, Damien Woody and Domonique Foxworth reacted to their colleague Bill Barnwell’s article on what went wrong for Mayfield in his second NFL season and if it can be fixed. Barnwell made an interesting comparison to Mitchell Trubisky of the Chicago Bears in how Mayfield could have his fifth-year option declined.
Mayfield has a short leash in the eyes of Tannenbaum. The former NFL general manager firmly understands the Browns’ new coach isn’t the one who drafted him. Berry might have been on John Dorsey’s staff in 2018 before spending a year with the Philadelphia Eagles, but Stefanski was deeply entrenched on Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings staff. Stefanski has no attachment.
If Mayfield is inherently reckless with the football again, don’t be shocked if Stefanski yanks him out of the game in favor of his backup Case Keenum. Back in 2017, Keenum was the Vikings quarterback on a team that went 13-3 and came up one game short of playing Super Bowl 52 in their own building. There is a great deal of trust between Keenum and Stefanski.
So is Mayfield destined to be out of Cleveland after 2021 after not getting his fifth-year option extended to him? Not necessarily, and here is why. Mayfield has had four head coaches in his first two years in Cleveland. Even the best quarterbacking talents can’t overcome that. Joe Thomas’ retirement hasn’t made things easier for him in a forever collapsing pocket either.
By upgrading both tackle spots with Jack Conklin coming over in free agency and Jedrick Wills Jr. in the first round of the NFL Draft, Cleveland got instantaneously more competent on the offensive side of the ball. Also, take a look at the weapons Mayfield has to work with and how can he not succeed in 2020?
Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku were already there. Cleveland went out and signed the best tight end on the free agent market in Austin Hooper. There is a phenomenal chance the 2020 Browns offense looks a lot like what the Vikings have the last two years. Mayfield at the very least can be Keenum in this scheme, maybe even Kirk Cousins.
But the biggest reason Mayfield won’t fail this year is because he knows he can’t. This is the same guy who grew up in Austin, Texas and had to walk-on twice to have his shot at being a full-time starter in college football. What he did at Oklahoma under Lincoln Riley is transferable at the NFL-level. The taboo nature of the Air Raid is falling to the wayside. Just look at the Arizona Cardinals.
Mayfield is not dumb, as he understands he can hand the ball off to Chubb and Hunt to open up easier passing lanes to Beckham, Hooper, Landry and Njoku. If it all hits, Cleveland is a team that can go 11-5 and maybe win the AFC North for the first time in decades should the Baltimore Ravens fall a few games off their 14-2 mark from the year before.
If you want to count Mayfield out this year, do so at your own peril because he’s got this.