About three months ago, Baker Mayfield requested a trade from the Cleveland Browns when the organization made it apparent that they were pursuing Deshaun Watson. The former 2018 first-overall draft choice has not lived up to expectations during his time in Ohio, and the Browns have, evidently, grown impatient.
In Mayfield’s four-year career, he has yet to break into the top 10 for passing yards or touchdowns in a given season. Nonetheless, Mayfield has provided the Browns with leadership and attitude at the game’s most important position. While he has not generated eye-popping production yet, Mayfield’s 30 touchdowns and 4,030 yards in 2020 are milestones that no Chicago Bears quarterback has achieved in their 102-year history.
Marty Mornhinweg, former NFL head coach of the Detroit Lions and Super Bowl XXXI Champion, joined The 33rd Team’s Wednesday Huddle this week to discuss Baker Mayfield’s situation.
“Well, first of all, it is really easy to see why several teams would want to acquire Baker,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s [Mayfield] got excellent decision-making [skills]—typically, he’s good with his accuracy.”
Mornhinweg is correct. According to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield’s 20 turnover-worthy plays in 2021 were lower than Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, and Josh Allen. Mayfield also boasted a higher aDOT (9.2) than the signal-callers mentioned above (7.6, 8.2, and 9.0, respectively). All the while, Baker played most of the 2021 NFL Season with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder: a tremendous display of toughness and dedication.
“He [Mayfield] understands timing; he’s an anticipator,” Mornhinweg said. “That sometimes gets him into trouble because he anticipates too much, but he does show some instincts.”
Mayfield’s ability to anticipate translated to the league instantly. As a rookie during the 2018 NFL Season, Mayfield’s 7.7% big-time-throw rate ranked third in the league behind only Mahomes and Russell Wilson. Additionally, Mayfield released the ball quicker than either Mahomes or Wilson that season on average, taking only 2.66 seconds to throw to their 2.77 and 2.99, respectively.
“[Another] positive is that Mayfield has been in several different [offensive] systems with several different coordinators already,” he said. “He should be able to adapt to any offensive structure in football.”
Since the beginning of the 2018 NFL Season, the Browns have had four people stand in as their head coach: Hue Jackson (eventually to be replaced midseason), Gregg Williams, Freddie Kitchens, and Kevin Stefanski. Furthermore, the Browns have had three different offensive coordinators: Todd Haley, Todd Monken, and Alex Van Pelt.
The varying permutations of coaching philosophies should have been more damaging than it was to Mayfield’s development. Despite having three different offensive structures in four years, Mayfield’s production has remained average to above-average compared to the rest of the NFL.
“[Mayfield] is a fine football player, a fine quarterback. His numbers are really good,” he said. “The touchdown to interception ratio has been good for him; his yards-per-attempt is [not bad].”
Mayfield has performed significantly better than other projected starters in the NFL, such as Sam Darnold and Drew Lock. Mayfield’s 43:21 touchdown-to-interception ratio blows Lock and Darnold out of the water. Darnold has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18:24 since 2020, and Lock has thrown 18 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.
“But the conversation, whether it is Cleveland talking to Mayfield or Carolina talking to the quarterbacks they have there, is all about trust, right?” he said. “You build trust by communicating. [Most of the time] that is all a player wants is for the [conversation] to be put on the table.”
Frequently, miscommunication leads to the dissolution of trust between players, coaches, and the front office. It appears that happened between the Cleveland Browns organization and Mayfield in March. Around the same time as Cleveland became serious contenders for Watson, Mayfield changed his tune.
“The quarterback head coach relationship is critical, even if he is a defensive head coach,” he said. “They do not have to like each other, but the trust and respect have to be there.”
The union between coaching staff and quarterback is something that Mayfield has been presumptively missing during his NFL tenure. As noted above, Mayfield has experienced four head coaches in as many years. It is challenging to cultivate a relationship with the head coach if there is a perpetual revolving door. Former Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Miami Dolphins, General Manager of the New York Jets, and co-founder of The 33rd Team Mike Tannenbaum weighed in on the Browns’ precarious situation.
“I think that Deshaun Watson is going to be suspended. The question is how much,” Tannenbaum said. “Is there a marriage of convenience? Does [Mayfield] have a chance to maximize himself in Cleveland?”
From a purely personnel-oriented perspective, it would make sense for the Browns to retain Mayfield if the NFL suspends Watson for more than a handful of games. As discussed above, Mayfield can hold his own under center, which is not commonplace in the NFL.
“It looks to me like Cleveland and Mayfield have cut ties,” Mornhinweg said. “They have [Jacoby] Brissett there now, and it might be a hard one to work out.”
The Browns’ acquisition of Brissett shortly after the Watson trade foreshadowed Mayfield’s departure before the season. However, trading Mayfield is becoming increasingly uneconomical for the Browns. Mayfield arguably provides more value to the Browns on the roster than a trade piece. One thing is sure: Mayfield’s availability on the trade market will be a story to follow the rest of the offseason. It could be the late offseason move that puts the cherry on top of an otherwise chaotic and historic offseason.