Mayfield Disappoints, Prompting Questions About His Future In Cleveland

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    After an unforgettable 2020 campaign in which the Cleveland Browns won their first playoff game since 1994, Cleveland fans turned their eyes to the Super Bowl. The Browns heavily improved their defense, and it seemed that Cleveland finally had their quarterback of the future in Baker Mayfield. 2020 was Baker Mayfield’s best season of his career and he was expected to have an even better season in 2021. Through the first two weeks of the season, Mayfield exceeded those expectations, as he was arguably the most efficient quarterback in football. He completed 81% of his passes (first in the NFL) and 10.9 yards per attempt (second in the NFL) during weeks 1-2. However, his season began to derail after he suffered a series of injuries, including a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder during a Week 2 bout with the Houston Texans.

    CLEVELAND, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 19: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns is hit by strong safety Justin Reid #20 of the Houston Texans during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    By the season’s halfway point, it was clear that Mayfield wasn’t playing at his best. Fans wondered if he would proceed with season-ending surgery to heal his torn labrum; however, he opted to finish out the season. This proved to be a bad decision, as Mayfield’s second half of the season was the worst stretch of games of his entire career. In his final six games, Mayfield recorded an average of 182 yards per game, a 53% completion percentage, 5.7 yards per attempt, and 1.66 interceptions per game.

    While Mayfield did have a fair share of valid excuses for his poor play, including injuries, a below-average receiving core, questionable play-calling, and poor offensive line play, it is difficult to excuse such terrible play. Even when you consider the situation he was in, Mayfield still played poorly. If Mayfield had just played at an average NFL quarterback level, the Browns would currently be in the playoffs and competing for the Superbowl. With it being evident that Baker Mayfield held back the team this season, many fans have suggested that the team replace him this offseason, but just how realistic would it be to replace him?

    The Browns are in win-now mode, so drafting a rookie quarterback who would likely need time to develop would not be ideal. This upcoming draft class also has a lack of quarterback talent compared to the classes before, so replacing Baker Mayfield through trade would be the best option. The ultimate goal would be to acquire a high-level quarterback like Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. However, it is unlikely that the Browns would be able to match the offers of other QB desperate teams with better draft capital if these quarterbacks were to become available. A more realistic option for the Browns would be to trade for a quarterback like Kirk Cousins. NFL Insider Chris Tomasson reports that it is “uncertain” if Kirk Cousins will be back with the Vikings in 2022. With Kevin Stefanski being Kirk Cousins’ former offensive coordinator with the Vikings, this is something that Stefanski would likely look into. Derek Carr is another quarterback who could become available this offseason. Ian Rapoport reports that “Derek Carr’s future with the Raiders is likely tied to their next head coach.” Carr would be a considerable upgrade over Baker Mayfield and should be someone that the Browns look into acquiring through a trade.

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 09: Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders scrambles under pressure from the Los Angeles Chargers defense during a game at Allegiant Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

    Despite multiple quarterbacks likely becoming available in the offseason, the most likely scenario for next season is the Browns retaining Baker Mayfield and hoping that he can return to 2020 form after getting shoulder labrum surgery. The front office still has hope that Mayfield can be the quarterback of the future for this franchise and would like to give him one more year to prove himself. Mayfield has shown that he can play at an above-average level, and that is all the Browns need him to be to become true AFC contenders.

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