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Baker Mayfield could have just played his final game with the Cleveland Browns

Vincent Frank

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has joined the rest of his team in struggling through what will be a lost 2021 season for the long-downtrodden franchise.

The former No. 1 pick closed out said season by completing 16-of-38 passes for 185 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 26-14 Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mayfield will now sit out Cleveland’s meaningless Week 18 outing against the Cincinnati Bengals, according to head coach Kevin Stefanski.

Stefanski announced on Tuesday that Mayfield will undergo left shoulder surgery as soon as possible, meaning Case Keenum will close up shop under center next Sunday.

It was just back in December that Mayfield alluded to internal issues within the Browns’ organization when talking about the team’s struggles this season.

“It comes down to trying to find an even balance of listening to those opinions around you that truly matter, friends, family, teammates, and that’s been the tricky part about this year, has been a lot of internal things,” Mayfield said. “It hasn’t just been the outside noise.”

That came at about the same time that he questioned the conservative nature of Stefanski’s play-calling — leading to further questions about the dynamics behind the scenes.

What we do know is that Mayfield and his Browns failed to come to terms on a contract extension ahead of the 2021 season. Given his performance, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland’s brass kicking the tires on that possibility during the offseason. This could lead to Mayfield playing out his rookie contract. There’s also a chance that he has indeed played his final game as a member of the Browns.

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Baker Mayfield just hasn’t been a good quarterback

cleveland browns moving on from baker mayfield?
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

We can point to issues with coaching (see: Freddie Kitchens’ one-and-done campaign). We can point to issues on the offensive line and a lack of skill-position talent. We can’t point to Mayfield’s injury issues. That’s fine and dandy.

What we do know is that Mayfield was not a good quarterback during the 2021 season. Over the course of his final six starts, the former Oklahoma standout completed 54% of his passes with nine touchdowns, 11 turnovers and a 64.1 passer rating. Statistically, he was among the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL during that span. It’s just the continuation of inconsistency on the part of the embattled signal caller since Cleveland made him the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Baker Mayfield stats (bold = career lows)

  • 2018: 63.8% completion, 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 93.7 rating
  • 2019: 59.4% completion, 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, 78.8 rating
  • 2020: 62.8% completion, 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 95.9 rating
  • 2021: 60.5% completion, 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 83.1 rating

It’s interesting in that Mayfield put up some of his best numbers in Stefanski’s first season with the team back in 2020. He followed that up by accumulating a performance comparable to the quarterback’s only season with the aforementioned Kitchens calling the shots back in 2019.

This can’t lead to confidence from Cleveland’s brass that Mayfield will somehow turn it around in Stefanski’s third season with the organization. And given the fact that last season saw this head coach lead the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002, it’s obvious he’ll be retained.

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In short, and disconnect between Mayfield and Stefanski will lead to Cleveland choosing its head coach over the struggling quarterback. And there’s a disconnect here.

“We did enough to win the game, so check that box off, but got conservative. I think we need to put that team away. We got ahead early, just need to capitalize when the defense is playing like that and holding them to points,” Baker Mayfield said following a Week 14 win over the Baltimore Ravens . “We need to put it away. That’s what good teams do, so we need to improve on that.”

Baker Mayfield contract makes him an asset on the trade block

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was noted back in December that the Browns were going to look to find competition in the quarterback room this coming off-season. These reports seemingly came directly from the Andrew Berry-led front office, and put Mayfield on notice.

What if the Browns simply opt to blow up the Mayfield experiment and start anew at quarterback? The finances could very well lead to Berry and Co. making this decision.

Mayfield is set to count $18.59 million against the cap in 2022 after the Browns previously picked up the option on the final year of his rookie deal. He’s still only 26 years old and has shown enough to entice other rebuilding teams.

With a cap hit of less than $19 million, Mayfield becomes a major asset in either a trade for another quarterback or a seperate deal to collect draft picks that would help bring in another signal caller.

Cleveland Browns have options

It’s not like the quarterback market is going to be bare this coming off-season. Multiple starter-caliber quarterbacks could find themselves on the trade block.

That’s a pretty darn big list right there. Even if half of these quarterbacks were actually put on the market, it would give Cleveland an opportunity to improve over what has been a pedestrian Baker Mayfield under center.

As of right now, the Browns are expected to have $36.3 million in cap room. They can save a ton more by releasing veterans such as J.C. Tretter, Case Keenum and Kareem Hunt. Meanwhile, restructuring deals for Jarvis Landry, Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper would also save Cleveland a lot of cash.

Finances are not an issue. Roster building isn’t an issue. The quarterback market will likely be abound with potential upgrades.

Yeah, we could have very well seen the last of Baker Mayfield in a Browns uniform during an ugly Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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