Baker Mayfield has been one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in recent memory. In three NFL seasons, Baker Mayfield has stood out in various ways. In Mayfield’s rookie year, he broke the record for most passing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback. With the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns were expected to become legitimate contenders in the AFC. Instead, Mayfield regressed as a quarterback.
This past season, Mayfield had a bounce-back season and with the help of his team, the Browns won their first playoff game since 1994. With two seasons left on Baker Mayfield’s rookie deal, he is now eligible for a contract extension.
Baker Mayfield has the pedigree and the resume to showcase why he should be receiving a contract extension. In the 2018 NFL Draft, Baker Mayfield was the first quarterback and the first player taken. Mayfield’s collegiate career showed that he had a ton of potential to be really good in the NFL. Although he has had his ups and downs, it is clear that he is at least a starting-caliber NFL player at his position. The resume of Mayfield certainly is not relative to other quarterbacks.
The Browns lost 31 of 32 games before selecting Baker Mayfield as the franchise quarterback. In Mayfield’s rookie year, the Browns went 6-7 when he was the starting quarterback. Mayfield also threw for 27 TDs and played with swagger. The Browns were much improved with Mayfield at the helm. The talent clearly showed itself, especially when the running game was clicking for the Browns. It was obvious that Mayfield had elite intangibles, which is very good for leadership skills.
In the 2019 NFL season, there is no arguing that regression happened with Baker Mayfield. However, there were outside factors that caused his regression. A new head coach in Freddie Kitchens did not help. Kitchens was a terrible head coach and that was obvious with the locker room behavior. A lot of young quarterbacks would not have succeeded under the environment that Mayfield was put into with Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield’s growth was stunted when Odell Beckham Jr. went to the Browns via trade. Mayfield struggling in 2019 was due to the surroundings around him rather than Mayfield being a bad quarterback. The Browns fired Freddie Kitchens after the 2019 NFL season was over and replaced him with Kevin Stefanski.
With the guidance of Kevin Stefanski, Baker Mayfield improved as a player. That reflects the work ethic for Mayfield, which means he will continue to be a hard worker and be hungry for success. At first, Mayfield did not look good as a quarterback, but once Odell Beckham Jr. tore his ACL, Mayfield improved as a passer. Receivers such as Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins started to make plays. The Browns as a team became more cohesive. The Browns finished 11-5 and won a playoff game, which means their season was a big success.
Mayfield has shown signs of success with good surroundings around him and he is improving. Those trends show that Baker Mayfield should be getting a contract extension from the Browns now.
Although the Browns were very dysfunctional for years prior to 2018, the standard of quarterbacking should be higher than just good. Baker Mayfield has proven to be a good quarterback at times, but there is so much inconsistency with his play. In one game, Mayfield may be getting into a shootout against a good team while in another game, he may struggle to put up points against a bad team. Mayfield is one of those quarterbacks where he can win or lose on any given game. Quarterback contracts in today’s NFL are expensive. Getting the quarterback extended for the right price matters a lot for sustained success. The Browns cannot let themselves fall into mediocrity at the quarterback position.
Baker Mayfield had the most passing touchdowns for a rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL, but he still had issues with his game. Baker Mayfield threw 14 interceptions, which showed his issues with not turning the football over. The attitude for Mayfield was also an issue. More importantly, Mayfield’s mentality was not matching his actual level of play. Mayfield had the attitude that he was a great quarterback while in reality, he was just decent and sometimes good. His leadership questions were still unanswered.
Expectations skyrocketed when the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. With that addition, the Brows were expected to contend for the Super Bowl with Baker Mayfield being an MVP candidate. Instead, the Browns flopped to 6-10 as Baker Mayfield regressed everywhere. His accuracy, yards per game, and touchdowns went down while his interceptions and sacks increased. If it were not for Jameis Winston throwing interceptions at a historic rate, then Baker Mayfield would have led the NFL in interceptions during the 2019 NFL season. Baker Mayfield endured a huge sophomore slump.
The Browns changed up their offensive philosophy, which did wonders for Baker Mayfield. The mistakes that Baker Mayfield was making in the past seemed to have stopped. However, Baker Mayfield was not actually the main catalyst in the Browns improving as a team.
The credit can be given to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt because the running game was elite. Anytime a quarterback can have two good running backs, their job is going to be easy to do. The improvement for the Browns might have happened without Baker Mayfield actually improving as a player.
With Baker Mayfield and the Browns going 11-5, that led the Browns to have their best season since 1994 in their franchise history. However, that may have also been an outlier due to the fact that the Browns played a historically easy schedule. They played four games against the dreadful NFC East, two games against the Bengals, the 1-15 Jaguars with Mike Glennon at quarterback, and the Texans.
In those games, the Browns went 8-0. Easy opponents are not going to happen every season, which is why the win-loss record needs to not be elevated so much in the case of why Baker Mayfield should get a contract extension from the Browns. The play of Baker Mayfield has not consistently shown a positive trajectory so far in his NFL career. Giving him a contract extension now may cause his contract to become an overpay in the long term.
Quarterback contracts have been coming out like crazy in recent years, but the Browns should not just give in to an unreasonable contract with Baker Mayfield. If Baker Mayfield is asking to get more money than Dak Prescott, then the Browns should not cave into those demands. Right now, I would offer the contract in the same ballpark as Ryan Tannehill, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Matthew Stafford. Baker Mayfield is a good, but not a great quarterback. Baker Mayfield is not exactly replaceable, but not impossible to replace if the successor has the potential to be a great player.
Those three quarterbacks that Baker Mayfield is being compared to are all valid. Ryan Tannehill has played a big part in turning around the Titans, but he is not that good without Derrick Henry. The play-action game is what makes Ryan Tannehill the threat that he is. Jimmy Garoppolo played a pretty important role in making the 49ers become a Super Bowl contender. The problem with him is that Jimmy Garoppolo cannot stay healthy. Matthew Stafford was a solid quarterback for the Lions, but he never elevated them into a perennial playoff contender. There was just always something going on that prevented Matthew Stafford from rising up during big moments.
All of these three quarterbacks have their moments, but they are not must-haves. Baker Mayfield falls into that category.
After examining everything with Baker Mayfield, the Browns should start contract talks right now. However, Mayfield has to take a fair contract from the Browns. If not, then leave the current contract as is with Mayfield. The Browns have a capable backup quarterback with Case Keenum if Baker holds out.
Therefore, the contract that the Browns should be offering to him is 4 years/$114 million with $75 million in guarantees. The contract should also be front-loaded, which means Mayfield has to continue to improve or else, the Browns could just get rid of him with little consequence. That is what the Browns should do when planning to give a contract extension to Baker Mayfield.