Author,  Award-Winning Journalist and Proud Oklahoman

There’ll be no more Thumbs-Up for Browns from Baker Mayfield

Matt Starkey/Cleveland Browns

When Baker Mayfield found himself trying to win the hearts and minds of the Cleveland Browns who owned the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mayfield went for the bomb. He took a verbal risk to sell himself to the Browns. He speculated and overpromised.

“I think if anybody’s going to turn that franchise around,” he announced confidently at the NFL Scouting Combine of the team that had put together back-to-back 1-15 and 0-16 disasters, “it would be me.”

From the moment that John Dorsey, then general manager, bought in by making Mayfield the draft’s No. 1 choice, Mayfield was on the clock. Time ran out this week. Had he been closer to the Browns’ sad history since their 1999 reincarnation, Mayfield might have been more judicious and watered down his pronouncement with qualifiers.

After four up-and-down seasons of coaching and management changes and disarray, the Browns tired of looking at Mayfield and promise unfulfilled at the level they want. No quarterback has fully succeeded. Where ownership and management should have been looking was in their mirror. That’s where they’d see the franchise’s losers, not on the infamous “Quarterback Jersey” on which names of a long line of failed starters appear.

Mayfield set rookie passing records in 2018, despite his first coach and Dorsey’s reluctance to turn the team over to him. Amid turmoil and drama in year two (2019), Mayfield discovered that turning a broken franchise around might be harder than imagined. He bounced back in 2020 under yet another new coach. He not only took the Browns to their playoffs in 18 years but also won a game for the first time in 26 years, back to the Old Browns’ Days. And they beat their nemesis Pittsburgh, no less.

The wheels fell off the Sooner Schooner in 2021. Mayfield suffered his most serious injury—a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in addition to several others—in either college or the NFL. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. undermined him but managed to wriggle his way out of town. And worst, Mayfield came into conflict with both a coach who did not put him in a position to succeed and management that would not even discuss a contract extension. Though Coach Kevin Stefanski and General Manager Andrew Berry professed that Mayfield was their man, he seemed to be diminished as much by their lack of belief in him as by his injuries.

He had a right to be worried. The fix might not have been in but it surely was at hand.

He hadn’t grown physically, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise to evaluators. Most men don’t get much taller after ages 18 to 20 and usually reach peak height by the time they are 16. Mayfield is 6-foot-1. He has had his most success in a shotgun formation from which he shredded college defenses and seems to have been able to find his receivers more easily among the taller trees that are professional D-linemen.

Stefanski’s offense has had Mayfield most often take the snap under center to facilitate the coach’s run-game design that doesn’t put Mayfield in the best position to succeed. He has asked Mayfield to adjust to the offense rather than adjusting it to Mayfield’s strengths. At Oklahoma, his coaches had Mayfield in the shotgun or pistol a high percentage of the time—and his passing was better because they taught and used a run scheme that worked well with deep-set quarterback and running backs alongside.

Finally, during 2021, the worst season of Mayfield’s career, he had begun to criticize play calls and how he was being utilized. Stefanski and Berry sounded supportive of their QB, if not enamored, until they didn’t. They said one thing and did another. They began sniffing around a better quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who did not even play for the Houston Texans in 2021 because of accusations of sexual misconduct made by massage therapists. When a grand jury refused to indict him, it became open season for teams who needed a quarterback or wanted to improve upon the one they have. The Browns did not care that 22 women have civil suits pending against Watson, and the NFL could suspend him for violating its Personal Conduct Policy, with which Browns co-owner Dee Haslam is associated as an NFL Conduct Committee member.

The Browns not only have vetted Watson and agreed to send the Texans first-round draft picks this year and in 2023 and 2024 but also lesser compensation. They rewrote Watson’s five-year contract to give him $230 million fully guaranteed. As a result of Watson changing his mind about joining the Browns whom he had rejected a day earlier, they finally will have the quarterback they could have drafted in 2017.

In the process, if a report by ESPN’s Chris Mortenson is correct, they insulted not only Mayfield’s ability as a quarterback by dumping him for one with a similar record but also attributed the decision, at least in part, to the desire to have “an adult at that position.” This prompted Mayfield to ask for a trade. He told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that “the relationship is too far gone to mend.” The Browns refused the request before Watson reversed his decision, and so now Mayfield will be able to end this charade.

When he transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma, Mayfield replaced Trevor Knight after sitting out the 2014 season when rules were more restrictive. In his finest performance, Knight had led OU to a victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. So Baker Mayfield is now on the other end of a team choosing someone else to be its quarterback. The difference: Oklahoma did not seek out Mayfield. He arrived at Norman unannounced and, for the second time in his college career, without a scholarship.

He asked Bob Stoops, who then coached the Sooners, if he could play. Boy, could he!

He still can, if he can find a team willing to tailor its offense to his strengths. His future depends on it. Mayfield has said he thinks that team could be the Indianapolis Colts, who after only one year gave up on Carson Wentz who had been given up on in Philadelphia. Indianapolis Star writer Nate Atkins, noting that the Wentz failure means the Colts will have their fifth starting quarterback in five seasons. It allows little margin for error in another QB decision. Colts Coach Frank Reich is, Atkins writes, “a measured leader and quarterback-friendly play caller like Stefanski.” Oops. Mayfield did not find Stefanski to be all that quarterback-friendly. If, as Atkins suggests, “there’s a lot to unpack with Mayfield” so too would Mayfield have much to unpack about the Colts.

“The difference could be in the scheme,” Atkins suggests. “If Reich implements more shotgun looks and quick passes to allow Mayfield to operate with tempo and volume like he did at Oklahoma [bingo]. But Reich has resisted that approach because it takes the Colts out of their best run fits . . .” Sound familiar? Perhaps alarmingly so to Mayfield.

Maybe he should seek tips from reporter friends [?] concerning the art of the interview in order to grill teams about quarterback jobs that can be as tough to get as to keep.


NOTE: All of the enumerated Mayfield Memorandums can be found at: