One of the top priorities for new coach Kevin Stefanski is getting the most out of quarterback Baker Mayfield. That’s a comprehensive process that includes supporting him, challenging him and surrounding him with valuable resources after a disappointing second season.
Stefanski hit on those areas Thursday when he discussed his confidence in Mayfield and the decision to sign veteran Case Keenum to a three-year, $18 million deal to be the backup. The Browns have made it clear Mayfield is the undisputed No. 1 despite Keenum’s experience, including going 12-4 as a starter in 2017 with the Vikings with Stefanski as his quarterbacks coach.
“I believe in Baker Mayfield. He’s our starting quarterback,” Stefanski said on a conference call. “I think he’s a young player that I think we’ve all seen glimpses of this kid being a really good player. So I just think organizationally we believe in Baker Mayfield and this was part of my job and our job to surround him with some people that are going to help make the best version of Baker Mayfield. That’s myself, (coordinator) Alex Van Pelt.
“And then I think Case, his role, he’s done it all. He’s been a starter, he’s been a backup, he’s had to fight to be the third-string guy on teams, he’s been the undrafted player. So I just think adding him, he knows his role perfectly and everybody knows to get things done, it’s good when you have role players that understand what their job is. So I just felt it was important. And Case felt the same way.”
Mayfield was the No. 1 pick in 2018 and started all 16 games last season, the first Browns quarterback to do that since Tim Couch in 2001. But rather than settle for inexperienced Garrett Gilbert remaining the backup as he was for the final 15 games last year, the new Browns regime sought an upgrade.
“That’s a valuable position, that backup quarterback, for a bunch of reasons,” Stefanski said. “I’ve seen it in my career, sometimes that backup quarterback doesn’t play at all, sometimes he plays a lot. So it’s certainly a position that we didn’t want to take for granted.
“I just know Case Keenum the person, I know Case Keenum the player, I think he’ll make our team better. He said it and I told him, he doesn’t have to be a coach, we’ve got plenty of coaches. He just has to get himself ready to play like every one of our players has to. The way Case goes about preparing himself to play, whether you’re the backup or the starter, I think is a great message for our entire team. I know everybody’s sick of me saying smart and tough, but those are a couple things that Case Keenum has in spades.”
General manager Andrew Berry isn’t done adding to the roster, but Stefanski is impressed with what he did in the first couple of weeks of free agency. Berry has added 13 players, with right tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper, safety Karl Joseph and cornerback Kevin Johnson topping the list.
“Credit to Andrew Berry and his staff,” Stefanski said. “A.B. set out a plan and followed through on it. We identified some people important to what we want to do and who we want to be.
“When you talk free agency and then the draft, it was just so important to get the right players in here, but also to get the right people. I know I’ve harped on that, but I’m going to continue to harp on that. I really think that’s a big part of our program.”
The Browns don’t have a left tackle, but Stefanski said the plan is to keep Conklin at right tackle. He also said the addition of Hooper was necessary to run the offense he wants.
“This system that were running, we certainly want to use tight ends, multiple tight ends, and Austin has a versatility, he’s played in schemes similar to what we’re going to do, he’s a talented football player, he’s young, he’s smart,” Stefanski said. “It kind of checked a ton of boxes as we looked towards what we want to add to this group.”
ON THE MEND
Stefanski gave a positive report on the rehabs of receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Beckham had core muscle surgery Jan. 21, and Landry a more extensive hip surgery Feb. 4.
“Both those guys are exactly where they need to be in terms of rehab progression,” Stefanski said. “I think (vice president of player health and development) Joe Sheehan has been in touch every single day with those guys, so he’s very aware of where they are and what they’re doing and how they’re progressing.
“They were in the building quite a bit back in, I guess, January and February. So I got to talk to them, sit down with both those guys and see them in the training room. So they’re doing everything they need to and they’re right where they need to be from a rehab standpoint.”
Beckham should be cleared soon, if he hasn’t been already, to resume football activities. Landry isn’t expected back until August.
The signing of free agent linebacker B.J. Goodson may not affect the playing time of Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki, who were drafted in the fifth and third rounds, respectively, last year. Goodson signed a one-year deal last month.
“Adding B.J. to the room gives us a guy who’s been productive, has played a little bit, gives us some depth there, has played special teams, a good athlete that we feel fits our scheme,” Stefanski said. “And then we’ve got some young players at that position. Year 2 is always a huge year for players in the NFL in terms of taking that jump and not being a rookie anymore. So we have high hopes for those guys and see what you’ve got.”
The Browns cut Christian Kirksey and let Joe Schobert leave in free agency, so the linebacker position will look much different. Takitaki and Goodson are the likely options right now to replace Schobert as middle linebacker.
“We’ll see. I think certainly has the capability to do it,” Stefanski said of Goodson playing in the middle. “But I like versatility. So the ability to play different spots is important.”
Landry donated $15,000 to provide hygiene products to the students and families of the East Cleveland City School District, the team announced. He partnered with Meijer to get the supply.
The items, including soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and other personal care products, will be available Monday. Families with students enrolled in East Cleveland schools can pick up supplies from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Shaw High School, Superior Elementary School and Caledonia Elementary School.
An estimated 1,300 families will benefit.
“Although we are facing unprecedented challenges right now, it is important to remember that we are all in this together,” Landry said in the news release. “I love the City of Cleveland, and I want to make sure our communities have the support that they need to stay safe and healthy. We hope these items will help ease burdens and protect the well-being of the families and students of East Cleveland.”
The Browns will unveil their new uniforms this month, executive vice president JW Johnson tweeted Wednesday night.
He didn’t say how they’ll be announced, but the pandemic will prevent the in-person extravaganza the team had for the previous uniform reveal five years ago. So the new duds will likely be rolled out online.
“Stay Tuned and more importantly stay safe and stay home,” he tweeted. “God Bless and Go Browns!”
** Defensive end Adrian Clayborn’s agency tweeted a picture of him signing a two-year contract with the Browns. He agreed to the deal Tuesday.
** Stefanski said the scouts and position coaches have been handling the phone calls with draft prospects, who aren’t allowed to visit team facilities.