The Cleveland Browns come into the 2021-22 season looking to build off a campaign where the team registered its first playoff victory since 1995. To call this a drought is the understatement of the century. Some deserts aren’t as dry as the Browns have been in terms of winning the past 25 years.
Now the future looks bright in Cleveland, and they even have their franchise quarterback on the roster. Most football fans are used to the Browns being the team still searching for that QB of the future. Well, the future is here, and his name is Baker Mayfield.
But if Mayfield is the future and the centerpiece of the organization, why haven’t the Browns locked him up long-term yet? This is the question. Baker can say he “don’t give a damn,” but the truth is this contract extension must be on his mind. It may not be at the front of his mind, but rest assured Mayfield’s contract situation is taking up real estate somewhere in his head. There’s no way around it.
If the Browns were completely sold on Mayfield as their QB of the future, he’d already be signed to an extension. Wisely, though, the Browns are taking a year-to-year approach with Mayfield. Let’s not forget that he is entering his fourth season in the NFL. As the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, it feels like Mayfield has been in the league for at least five years already.
So let’s wait and see what he does in year four, and let’s find out whether he can be the leading force in the Browns making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. If the Browns can reach the postseason this year, Baker probably won’t be the driving force behind the team’s success. Under no circumstance should Cleveland put the ball in Mayfield’s hands and allow him to pass 40 times per game. After a stellar rookie season where he threw for over 3,700 yards and 27 touchdown passes, he followed up with a less-than-super sophomore campaign, leading the Browns to a 6-10 record. So you can see why the Browns are right to be cautious in not pulling the trigger too quickly in rewarding Mayfield with a big-money extension. The offense will continue to be carried by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, as it should be. Kevin Stefanski should continue to ride those horses to the finish line. Let the running game set up the play-action for Mayfield and continue to create easier reads down the field for the young QB.
Honestly, Mayfield is not ready to be “the” guy just yet. He’s an above-average QB at this point of his career. That’s not a knock, it’s the truth. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would take Mayfield over Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen. They’re both further along in their development at this stage of their careers. Jackson is already an MVP, and Allen is an MVP candidate.
So, the Browns are more than justified in their hesitation to jump all-in with Mayfield. He needs to show growth this season. Not just individually, but in continuing to win games while posting impressive stats. Throwing 26 TDs in today’s NFL is average at best. Mayfield needs to get that total up to 30, and still keep the interceptions down. Last season he threw only 8. A repeat in this category will be a welcomed sign for the Browns.
With an improving young defense and wicked running game, that next level is within Mayfield’s grasp. Now all he has to do is reach up and grab that brass ring to lock up that contract extension that still eludes him at the moment.