Heart of the Browns’ O-Line: RG Wyatt Teller (77), RG Joel Bitonio (75), Center JC Tretter (64)
Matt Starkey/Cleveland Browns
Even in the midst of celebrating the richly deserved contract extensions of Cleveland Browns guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, the elephant remained in the room: When will the guy they spend their workdays (and nights) protecting, Baker Mayfield, get his?
It is the elephantine question. And even on their glorious paydays, the Big Beautifuls, these large men of 300 pounds plus whom sportscaster Keith Jackson previously mislabeled as Big Uglies, have No. 6’s six. (That’s military/cop code for having someone’s back.)
While the reason I write these Mayfield Memoranda is that it is always about the quarterback, to worry about the fact that the Browns have not yet extended Mayfield’s contract is, I think, to miss or underappreciate the tangential signal in the Teller and Bitonio signings. The team has picked up Mayfield’s fifth-year option through 2022.
Mayfield has not expressed concern about his status, and General Manager Andrew Berry has been reassuring in the way he talks about his quarterback’s growth. The most recent example was the outward calmness and maturity with which Mayfield responded to the attack on him by the Beckham clan. Even if Mayfield did not take it personally, it certainly seemed personal. (In fact, perhaps “gang” or “mob” might be a more appropriate word for the eye-for-an-eye retaliation against Mayfield for what the Beckhams perceived as slights of the Browns’ highest-paid, most-targeted receiver.)
Mayfield, with his appreciative response to the contract extensions for Bitonio, 30 and Teller, 26, continued to demonstrate that he sees clearly and understands that he has the best pair of guards in the National Football League working before his very eyes. They allow him to keep those eyes up and downfield in search of receivers rather than looking for cover.
“Two extremely deserving guys of those extensions,” Mayfield said. “They protect me. They protect all of our guys. They are team-first guys. We’re happy to have them extended, obviously, but that changes nothing for me. I’m just trying to win games, and everything else will take care of itself.”
No one had to tell Mayfield that by extension these extensions were also about him. The Browns would not be laying out big money for the best possible offensive line if they did not view it as the frame for their small window of big opportunity. A team on such a mission with its limited timeline is not about to dump a winning quarterback in the hope of obtaining a better one. (Though there exists a recent example that comes close to this: the Los Angeles Rams traded Jared Goff and high-rounds draft picks to Detroit in exchange for Matthew Stafford, who though a quality quarterback, could not win there.)
Bitonio, for one, sounds as if he wants no part of a similar deal, perhaps especially now that the 2014 second-round draft choice from the University of Nevada has been positioned to play out his career in Cleveland. He wants Mayfield with him all the way. “I think he has shown a lot,” Bitonio said. “From Day One, before he even got drafted by the Cleveland Browns, he said: ‘I want to go to Cleveland. I want to help turn that around.’ Having that mentality, the toughness he plays with, the savvy he plays with, and the ability he shows . . . I think he is the right guy for the job.”
Pro Football Focus, after the ninth game, rated this Bill Callahan offensive line No. 4 of 32 in the NFL, a drop of two notches, because right tackle Jack Conklin has been sidelined with injuries and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. has yet to look like Joe Thomas, the future Hall of Fame tackle whom he replaced. His PFF grade (59.9) is the team’s worst. By comparison, Teller’s overall grade is 89.8 and Bitonio’s 88.7, second and third highest this season among NFL guards. Brink’s trucks on either side of center JC Tretter could hardly provide more protection. (Sharp-eyed Tony Grossi in his The Land on Demand blog pointed out that, emblematic of the extensions, a real Brink’s truck pulled into the parking lot at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus, the Browns’ Berea facility, on Wednesday ahead of team practice and second big payday.)
Bitonio’s 3-year extension for a reported $48 million came on the heels of Teller’s $56.8 million 4-year deal. Since Bitonio has a year remaining on his contract, both are now are signed through 2025. According to overthecap.com more than $17 million of Bitonio’s new contract is guaranteed. (There was $23 million guaranteed on the 5-year, $51-million deal that he signed in 2017.) Teller’s contract includes $28-million guaranteed. Neither will have to ask Mayfield if he and his wife have room for them at his Progressive Field digs or bum nickels from when—not if—he does finally get paid.
These two bookend guards—Teller more the mauler—came to protecting Mayfield with different status: Bitonio the top-of-the-round guy who was in place when Mayfield arrived and Teller the fifth-rounder (166 overall) of Buffalo in the 2018 draft in which Mayfield was Numero Uno. In 2019 former GM John Dorsey traded fifth- and sixth-round picks in the 2020 draft to the Bills for Teller and a 2021 seventh-rounder. He had started only seven games for Buffalo and even after adding nine more in Cleveland in 2019 didn’t know what his future might hold in 2020 with a new GM and coaches.
“Wyatt Teller’s NFL journey is a remarkable story of resiliency and work ethic,” Berry said. “He entered the NFL as an unheralded fifth-round pick (Virginia Tech), was traded to a completely new organization and then placed in a position battle that gave him no assurances of playing time. Yet, rather than bemoaning his lot, he looked at his challenge as a great opportunity. During that time he completely changed his body composition, competed daily to earn his starting job and developed a ceaseless desire to learn from the best O-Line coach in our sport. To see Wyatt turn himself into one of the top guards in the game has been an enormous pleasure.”
Bitonio, on the other hand, proved himself almost from Day One. Callahan never told him he didn’t know who his left guard would be as he did his right guard. “[Callahan is] one of the craziest men I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Teller said, meaning crazy good. Callahan is crazy like a fox. He knew how to motivate Teller and draw from him his best.
Berry may be plying his motivational skills as well. He announced that he had set as a priority to make Bitonio a Brown “for the rest of his career” so that at the end “we will all be looking forward to celebrating Joel’s gold-jacket fitting in Canton.” If he loses football weight, he can request a jacket just like the one Joe Thomas will receive. And then, the left side of the Browns’ O-Line can be reunited in the forever of the Pro Football Hall of Fame bust room.
If Berry’s prediction comes true, it should improve Mayfield’s chance to live to see it.
NOTE: All of the enumerated Mayfield Memorandums can be found at: https://stevelovewriter.com/blog/