The Cleveland Browns are facing a huge decision regarding the future of their franchise. Baker Mayfield has endured an inconsistent three seasons in the NFL, but has shown signs in the 2020 campaign that he could become the franchise quarterback the team has cried out for over 20 years.
Mayfield’s performances have given the Browns belief that they could challenge for a place in the NFL playoffs. His attributes were on full display in a thrilling comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals, connecting with Donovan Peoples-Jones for a last-second touchdown.
It capped a brilliance performance from Mayfield and a bounce-back game following a horror-show against the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous week. Head coach Kevin Stefanski has enjoyed an impressive start to his tenure and he appears to be getting the best out of Mayfield, whereas Freddie Kitchens before him struggled. It will give the Browns’ front office, led by general manager Andrew Berry, food for thought approaching the critical deadline looming in the 2021 off-season.
Do the Browns take the fifth-year option on Mayfield and then commit to a long-term deal? There have been encouraging signs, but the performances against the elite teams have been concerning. It raises doubts about whether Mayfield is the man to lead Cleveland to a Super Bowl.
Why the Browns should not offer Mayfield the option
In his three seasons as the Browns’ full-time starter, Mayfield has not excelled whereas others have thrived. It was clear that Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson were special by the time they had played two full terms. The jury remains out on Mayfield. He has had a string of good performances, and his best outing might be the win over the Bengals.
Cincinnati are far from a defensive juggernaut and it was a case of if not now but when for Mayfield putting the team on his back to secure a win. He tried in the previous week to put the game on his arm against the Steelers, throwing two interceptions and taking four sacks before he was withdrawn in a 38-7 defeat to Mike Tomlin’s men. The 25-year-old put forward a similar performance against the Baltimore Ravens on the opening day of the campaign. He mustered only 189 passing yards as Cleveland’s offense was stymied by the Ravens’ potent defense.
Against the elite teams, Mayfield has struggled to raise his game, which even called for him to be benched. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have owned the AFC North since the division was created in 2002. Cleveland has not been able to match their rivals on the field and it looks poised to continue, being backed behind the two sides in the race for the AFC North with odds of +1200 at Betway. The hope was that Mayfield would help the franchise transcend and overcome both the Ravens and the Steelers, but it does not appear that is going to come any time soon.
Why the Browns should go forward with Mayfield
Cleveland has cycled through a litany of quarterbacks since they returned to the NFL in 1999. They’ve suffered through the embarrassment of a 0-16 campaign and have failed to compete in the post-season since 2002. For the first time in 13 years, Mayfield has the franchise on course to compete and for once be relevant in January.
The quarterback certainly has his faults, but he is leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else the Browns have had playing the position since the days of Bernie Kosar. He is not perfect and Cleveland will rue the fact that they missed out on Mahomes, Watson, and Jackson in previous drafts, but they appear to be trending in the right direction.
There’s always the possibility that Mayfield will grow and develop under Stefanski. Mayfield’s struggles in the 2019 campaign were not entirely his fault. Cleveland’s hierarchy made a terrible decision to hand Kitchens head-coaching duties, and it put the future of the franchise back a year. As a result, the 25-year-old is playing under his third head coach in as many seasons.
Therefore, there are bound to be issues regarding the offense. Stefanski has a cool head and a good staff around him, leaning on the running game to ease the burden on Mayfield. The quarterback appears to be at his best when Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are operating at a high level. Chubb has been sidelined for a period of the season, and it notably affected Mayfield’s performances.
Now he has had time to settle without his running back, Mayfield displayed that he can raise the standards of his game to deliver a vital victory for his team after his five-touchdown display against Cincinnati. It could be the start of a dominant stretch from the quarterback.
Cleveland are heading into a crucial point in the history of their franchise. Their decision-making in the past has been downright terrible. The Browns cannot afford to make another mistake that could send the team back another 20 years from competing for the crown.