The Cleveland Browns quarterback improved as the season went along, but what does that mean in the big picture?
Entering the 2020 NFL season there were more questions than answers when it came to Baker Mayfield. A hot second half of his rookie season led to high expectations for his sophomore campaign which ended up being a massive disappointment. It was a make or break year for the Browns quarterback and his performances were on both ends of the spectrum. There were times when Mayfield looked spectacular and there were other times that he did not look like he belonged on the field. So that brings us do the multi-million dollar question.
What do the Browns have in Baker Mayfield?
If this was pure fan speak or people who focus on aspects of football that do not relate to play on the field the answer would be something like saying he is a bonafide franchise quarterback, sign him to a large extension, so on and so forth. Unfortunately it is not that simple. The reality is that Baker Mayfield was inconsistent for a large part of the season, only improving with a simpler game plan and coincidentally the absence of Odell Beckham Jr.
In Mayfield’s full six games with Beckham in the lineup he completed 60.6% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while averaging 182.5 yards per game. Every full game after Beckham was lost for the season Mayfield completed 62.5% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 1 interceptions with throwing for 241.2 yards per game. It is worth mentioning that Mayfield averaged nearly four more pass attempts without Beckham than with him (32-28.3).
Mayfield improved as the season progressed
As mentioned above, Baker Mayfield improved as the season went on. A key aspect of this was becoming more comfortable in yet another new offense that was thrust upon him. Another was the overall simplification of the game plans from Kevin Stefanski. A lot of the offensive success actually belongs to Stefanski due to his scheming players open and catering the offense to the strengths of Mayfield. That being said, credit where credit is due, Mayfield executed and was able to propel the Browns to the playoffs including a win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Where do the Browns go from here?
You know that part above asking about the multi-million dollar question? This is the secondary part. The first part is What do the Browns have in Mayfield?
The second part is Where do they go from here?
So looking at the first part it appears that the Browns have a quarterback who has succeeded in the offense that the coaching staff installed. The second part is the tricky part. After there were legitimate questions about what the Browns would do with his fifth-year option it is a no-brainer to pick it up. While some like to take the way too premature approach of extending Mayfield now, the reality is that Mayfield still has not been consistent over a full 16 game season. This is the second time in his short career where he has shown better numbers over the second half of a season and that is something to keep in mind. Granted the offensive schemes were completely different, but a massive second half improvement has been seen before which led to disappointment the following season.
What the Browns need to do with Baker Mayfield is sit tight in regards to extension talks. Considering his inconsistency thus far in his career, they still need him to prove he is worthy of an extension. The worst thing they could do is prematurely extend him and have the contract age poorly. There have been plenty of teams that have signed a player to an extension before they should, resulting in it blowing up in their face. If an opportunity for a mulligan presented itself, have to imagine they would take it.
So, do the Browns extend Mayfield sooner rather than later?
The fact of the matter is that a premature contract extension can lead to a premature death of a contention window. Once a team signs a quarterback to a big deal it results in sacrifices made elsewhere on the roster. Considering the large dollar figures belonging to key offensive players this could result in a reduction of quality players at skill positions and a lower quality of offensive execution overall. Taking away talented payers from a player who appears to need it hardly seems like a good idea.
Baker Mayfield has not yet earned a contact extension and the suggestions made by some are just preposterous. The argument of setting the market for other quarterbacks drafted in his class simply does not apply. Lamar Jackson has won an MVP and Josh Allen is at or near an elite quarterback. The fact of the matter is that their offenses are driven by their quarterback and this does not apply to Cleveland.
Cleveland’s best path forward is to pick up his fifth-year option and stand pat. There is no reason to rush into signing an extension just because the player is now eligible for it, the player has to earn it. Currently Baker Mayfield has not earned a large big money extension.
If Baker Mayfield is able to continue the trajectory of the 2020 season and leads the Browns on a deep playoff run this would qualify as earning it. This would mean that Mayfield is their franchise quarterback and that questions no longer remain about his future. The fact of the matter thought is at this point being consistently inconsistent with one winning season and one playoff win under his belt is not worthy a deal which will more than likely cripple the franchise in the future.