If there’s one thing you can rely on with the Colts, it’s that they’ll have a high draft pick as their quarterback.
Last year, it was Carson Wentz, the No. 2 selection from 2016, after he was traded from the Eagles to replace the retired Philip Rivers, 2004’s No. 4 pick. Rivers came after the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck (No. 1, 2012) left the Colts with a mere third-rounder, Jacoby Brissett, as their starter in 2019.
Before Luck, of course, there was 1998 No. 1 pick Peyton Manning. The Colts have also had top-five picks under center with Jeff George (No. 1, 1990), and going back to their Baltimore days, Art Schlichter (No. 4, 1982), Bert Jones (No. 2, 1973), and Earl Morrall (No. 2 by the 49ers, 1956). Hysterically, Johnny Unitas was a ninth-round pick (by the Steelers) out of Louisville in 1955.
So, if Baker Mayfield winds up in Indianapolis after his situation soured in Cleveland, the top pick from the 2018 draft will fit right into the franchise’s history. But that’s not the only reason that Indianapolis is a good choice for the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, and Mayfield a good choice for the Colts.
For one thing, it’s ludicrous how much of the blame Mayfield has gotten for Cleveland’s collapse last season. While he didn’t have a good year by any stretch of the imagination, Mayfield was hurt almost the entire season. While the injury was to his non-throwing shoulder, suffered in Week 2 and aggravated in Week 6, it was obvious that Mayfield wasn’t the same down the stretch.
In his first six starts of 2021, Mayfield was 116-for-173 passing (67 percent), for 245.7 yards per game with six touchdowns and three interceptions.
In his remaining eight starts, Mayfield was 137-for-245 passing (56 percent), for 192 yards per game with 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 25 sacks.
It doesn’t help that Mayfield’s relationship with Odell Beckham Jr. disintegrated, and that Beckham wound up winning a Super Bowl with the Rams while Mayfield and the Browns missed the playoffs. But Cleveland’s mess isn’t the Colts’ concern. Indianapolis just needs an upgrade over Wentz — not dissimilar to how the Rams, last offseason, sought an upgrade over Wentz’s top-of-the-draft mate, 2016 No. 1 pick Jared Goff, got that upgrade with Matthew Stafford, and won the Super Bowl.
Wentz completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,563 yards last season, with 27 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. That was after leading the NFL with 15 interceptions in 2020, and throwing 50 picks (with 113 touchdowns) in 68 games for the Eagles.
Mayfield’s career TD-INT ratio is 92-56, though it should be noted that he put up a 26-8 in 2020, when he led the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002, and 6-3 in the first six games of last season — games in which the Browns went 3-3, with a close loss to eventual AFC champion Kansas City, a shootout defeat against the Chargers, and getting steamrolled by a Cardinals team that at that point was undefeated and looking like the best team on the planet.
The Colts also know that they don’t have to rely on Mayfield to win a ton of games for them, because Jonathan Taylor is the core of their offense, and as such, Indianapolis was one of eight teams in the NFL to run the ball more than Cleveland did last year. Looking back, that may have been some of the source of Beckham’s frustration. With Nick Chubb in the Browns’ backfield, and Jarvis Landry and David Njoku to throw the ball to, no wonder Beckham only had 34 targets in six games with the Browns. While that was only a little lower than Beckham’s six-a-game target rate in Los Angeles, he also scored five touchdowns for the Rams, and it’s easier to take a backseat to Cooper Kupp when he’s clearly the top receiver in the league, than it is to acknowledge that Landry — his LSU teammate who was drafted a round later in 2014 — had surpassed him.
The Colts have a budding star receiver in Michael Pittman, and while they need to either bring back T.Y. Hilton or make another addition to the receiving corps, there won’t be nearly as much drama for Mayfield if he goes to Indianapolis. He’ll be able to hand the ball off to Taylor, connect with Pittman and tight end Mo Alie-Cox, and trust in a better defense than he could in Cleveland.
While Frank Reich couldn’t get things to work with Wentz, whom he had faith in from their days together in Philadelphia, the Colts still have had a top-10 scoring offense in three of Reich’s four years at the helm, with the one exception being Brissett’s season as the starter, when Indianapolis was still a respectable 16th.
Mayfield doesn’t need to be much better to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. The Colts don’t need a much better quarterback to get back to the top of the AFC South after stumbling to 9-8 with Wentz. And Cleveland needs to be rid of Mayfield yesterday. It’s the best fit for everyone, and it should happen.