Q: If Baker Mayfield has a better year, do you see him getting his option picked up by the Browns?
A: Most definitely. And that would be just a steppingstone to a long-term extension that could make him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
To me, the intrigue would come if Mayfield struggles for the second straight season. By next May, the Browns would have to decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option for 2022 on his rookie contract. With the change in the collective bargaining agreement, exercising the option would completely guarantee the fifth year. If Mayfield plays like he did as a rookie, picking up the option is a no-brainer. If he plays like he did last season, new general manager Andrew Berry could be torn. He didn’t draft Mayfield and might not want to commit to him for two more seasons. Berry could decline the option, give Mayfield 2021 to prove himself and then work on an extension if he plays well. But the lack of a vote of confidence could impact Mayfield’s relationship with the organization.
So the best thing for the Browns and Mayfield is for him to bounce back this season and cement his future as the franchise quarterback. With improved coaching, a better offensive line and talent across the skill positions, Mayfield should have no trouble — and will have no excuses — regaining his status as one of the league’s emerging stars.
Q: This new regime seems to like analytics at least as much as average, maybe more. What do those analytics say about Baker’s long-term prospects with the Browns?
A: The analytics like Mayfield more than the traditional numbers do. Mayfield was a favorite of Pro Football Focus coming out of Oklahoma, and even his down Year 2 didn’t shake the analytics site’s confidence.
PFF ranked Mayfield ninth among NFL quarterbacks after 2018, giving him an 84.5 grade. He dropped to 18th and 73.5 last season, but the grades are much higher than the raw statistics would indicate. He ranked 31st in the league with a 59.4 completion percentage, 22 interceptions and a 78.8 passer rating. Mayfield’s accuracy took a big dip in 2019, but it’s been strong historically, which helps him in the eyes of the numbers crunchers.
There’s no doubt the Browns are rooted in analytics, led by chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and Berry, and the organization has been known to share similar metrics as PFF. All of the above is to say that the new regime should be inclined to keep Mayfield. I think everyone involved, including coach Kevin Stefanski, wants Mayfield to succeed and believes he can. It’s just up to him to get it done.
Q: What is the one realistic transaction the Browns could make that would shock you the most?
A: An interesting, and difficult, question. But a couple of possibilities come to mind.
I’m a huge believer in defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and think the Browns should sign him to an extension. But they have former Pro Bowler Sheldon Richardson, signed free agent Andrew Billings and drafted Jordan Elliott, so Ogunjobi could be considered expendable if the Browns got a quality trade offer. He’s entering the final year of his rookie deal, so if the Browns don’t plan to sign him long term, that’s even more reason to consider a trade.
Another move that is unlikely but not unthinkable is trading center JC Tretter. He signed a three-year, $32.5 million extension last season and has played well during his three years with the Browns, but rookie Nick Harris could be a fifth-round steal. If Harris looks ready to start in training camp, Tretter could be jettisoned.
Q: Browns potentially getting a huge early gift by playing the Ratbirds away, when they may not be able to have fans in the seats. No fans = no fan noise, and the offense could survive a short preseason without having to be a really tight-knit group Week 1.
A: I’m not sure you meant this for the mailbag but I grabbed it because I thought it raised an interesting point.
First of all, just to make sure everyone knows, the Ratbirds are the Baltimore Ravens. The schedule released Thursday has the Browns opening at the defending AFC North champs Sept. 13.
I agree that could be a break and I wasn’t even considering the fan situation. To me, Week 1 is unpredictable across the NFL, the Browns have the “mystery” factor with a new coaching staff and they won in Baltimore last year. But your point about the crowd is significant. I believe talent usually wins out, but there’s a reason the point spreads shift significantly based on location of the game. And Baltimore has a strong home-field advantage that could potentially be wiped out. If there are no fans, and it takes awhile for players to get used to the huge change, the Browns could catch the Ravens in a vulnerable spot.
Q: Need a stud linebacker to help for one or two years till youngsters learn.
A: I won’t argue with you, but the decision-makers for the Browns might. They seem committed to a youth movement at the position, although Berry always says he’s looking at every option to improve the roster.
Linebacker is the biggest unknown, with nobody at the position who’s been a big-time starter in the league. Mack Wilson is No. 1 on the depth chart and had a promising rookie season in 2019 but isn’t guaranteed anything as a fifth-round pick.
If I were the Browns, I wouldn’t want to enter training camp with such doubts and I’d sign Nigel Bradham, Wesley Woodyard or Darron Lee for peace of mind. I’m just not sure Berry feels the need.
Q: Not exactly a Browns question, but what plans are there for the 2021 draft if we have 30 degrees and snow?
— Keith Parsons
A: Shivering. And maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell in a fur coat.
I’m sure there will be contingencies, but the draft has become an outdoor event. We all know what that can mean in Cleveland in late April and early May. So fans from other NFL cities should be prepared to bundle up.
Q: What year did OTAs, and minicamps start?
— Scott, Sharon Township
A: I don’t have an exact answer for you. Offseason workouts have been around as long as I can remember, but they became more defined in the previous CBA signed in 2011.
Training camp was shortened, two-a-days were outlawed and hitting monitored. At the same time, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp became fixtures of the offseason.
Q: If nothing else, the Browns have done a good job the past few years of honoring the team’s tradition. Adding statues of Jim Brown & Otto Graham justifiably honors the “Dynasty Browns.” Looking over the NFL 100 Team from earlier this year (and talking to fans who can remember him) I believe that Marion Motley is deserving of the next sculpture. Any idea if another statue is in the pipeline?
— John Palazzo
A: Motley is a deserving candidate given his Hall of Fame career and role tearing down racial barriers. He was one of four players who broke pro football’s color barrier in 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson debuted in Major League Baseball.
I haven’t heard any immediate plans for the next statue but know there’s some support for Paul Brown. It’s a tricky situation given his role in starting the Bengals and his son’s continued ownership down south, but no one’s come close to playing as large a role in Browns history as the man himself.
Q: Why is a 15-yard penalty not always a 15-yard penalty? If team A is on team B’s 10-yard line and team B commits a personal foul it becomes a 5-yard penalty (half the distance). Why isn’t the ball placed in the end zone for a touchdown? If team A is on its 10-yard line and commits a personal foul, why is the ball not placed in the end zone for a touchback? The idea would hold true for any penalty. A 10-yard penalty inside the 10-yard line or a 5-yard penalty inside the 5. So basically the half-the-distance rule should be eliminated. Another option would be to spot the ball on the 1-yard line as opposed to in the end zone.
— Bob Jacobs
A: Applying the whole penalty at all times is just too punitive. If a pass interference penalty in the end zone doesn’t give the offense a touchdown, why would a face-mask penalty on the 14-yard line? Or a false start inside the 5-yard line bring a touchback? The examples strike me, and the rules makers, as too extreme.
The change I would consider is enforcing as much of the 15-yard penalties as possible, stopping at the 1-yard line. I know this was one of your options, but there’s a big difference between awarding a touchdown and putting the ball at the 1.