Q: Scott, so far Baker Mayfield seems like he’s trying to be more of a leader, i.e. less talk, quiet, focused on football. Is this the calm before the storm? Or is Baker truly now more mature, and going to let his play speak for him?
A: I agree that’s the tenor of Mayfield’s offseason, starting with television interviews at the Super Bowl. But I must add this has been a much easier offseason to remain low-key, given the coronavirus pandemic and the fight against social injustice. Someone would have to be incredibly tone deaf to make a spectacle of himself during these difficult times.
I don’t mean to dismiss Mayfield’s apparent progress. Browns coaches and teammates have been unified in their praise of Mayfield during the virtual offseason program, citing his leadership and involvement in all areas of the offense. He also gathered receivers and tight ends in Texas in May for training sessions. And I give him credit for taking an active role in the fight against systemic racism.
But the true test will be once the season starts and Mayfield must deal with the media on a consistent basis and criticism. His personality is brash and outspoken, so I’d expect at least a couple of more missteps as he searches for the proper balance of being true to himself and not fighting dumb battles.
Q: The salary cap necessitates hard choices but Browns Analytics 1 (1-31 version) always seemed to take one path: cut experienced players with higher salaries and use analytics to fill your roster with young athletes who look great on a spreadsheet.
Am I naive to be disappointed when players like Joe Haden & Joe Schobert are treated like spare parts? Will Browns Analytics 2 factor in the value of veteran leadership & experience?
— John Palazzo
A: You’re not naïve to be disappointed when stalwarts of the team, with good years left, are sent packing. Haden has shown with his play in Pittsburgh that the Sashi Brown regime gave up on him too early. You can never have enough good corners, and Haden remains a good one. I believe Schobert was worth re-signing as a free agent in March, but the current regime didn’t consider him worth $10 million a year.
Brown’s regime was certainly about getting cheaper and younger, with a distant goal of competing. That led to some terrible personnel decisions, the 1-31 record and the hiring of John Dorsey as general manager. The roster is in a much better place as Andrew Berry takes over as GM, and I’d be stunned if there were the same type of roster purge. Owner Jimmy Haslam has been clear he believes this roster is playoff-caliber as it stands.
In regard to your final question, leadership and experience can’t be objectively quantified, so they’re difficult for analytics to process completely. While I think more “traditional” front offices value leadership and experience more, I believe Berry and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta when they say they will use all the information available, and that should include intangibles.
Q: Do you think David Njoku is on the roster after the trade deadline? You don’t sign 1 premier tight end & draft another if you believe Njoku has a future here.
A: I’m going to say, yes, he finishes the season with the Browns, just because I don’t think there will be a trade market for him. But I don’t expect Njoku to return for 2021, even though the Browns picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. It’s guaranteed only for injury, so the Browns could afford the risk and can still dump him after this season.
Berry appears to be holding out hope Njoku lives up to his draft status as a first-round pick and begins to fulfill the potential that accompanies his speed and jumping ability, and I’ll acknowledge there’s a chance. But it’s more likely he continues to disappoint with a lack of consistency and clutch playmaking. And you’re right that the signing of Austin Hooper and drafting of Harrison Bryant put the pressure on Njoku to perform in 2020.
Q: Why is the elf not more prominent either on the uniform or field? They say it’s going to be used more but why not where it’s visible?
A: This might be my first Brownie the Elf question.
I know the elf has returned to some stature of prominence in recent years, as chronicled in a story by the great Tom Reed in 2018 in The Athletic. The elf was on a giant banner at training camp, Dorsey’s cap and shirts. But I don’t think Brownie is universally beloved, so the organization walks a line with him. The Browns have long been known for the lack of an official logo, especially on the helmet, so too much use of the elf would counter that tradition.
The new uniforms released this offseason don’t feature the elf. And while I’ve heard interest in Brownie being the logo at midfield, that seems like a commitment the organization’s not willing to make. I think you’re going to have to be satisfied with Brownie around but in the background.
Q: What record is unbreakable in football? I.e. Cy Young’s 511 wins in MLB or Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in an NBA game?
A: Can I just say Jerry Rice? Because I’m torn between two of his receiving trifecta.
Rice is the NFL career leader in catches (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197). I could see someone surpassing the catches given the perfect combination of productivity and longevity. I can’t see anybody catching him in yards or touchdowns. The retired Randy Moss is second with 156 touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald is second with 17,083 yards but close to retirement.
I’m going to give the edge to 22,895 receiving yards as the most unbreakable. Fitzgerald’s chase has been commendable, but the fact that Terrell Owens is third at 15,934 shows just how safe Rice’s record is. T.O. would’ve needed seven more 1,000-yard seasons to pass him.
My favorite non-Rice unbreakable records belong to Otto Graham and Paul Krause. Graham went to 10 league title games in 10 years with the Browns, an unparalleled feat worthy of his Northwestern University pedigree. And Krause, who played for Washington and Minnesota, had 81 interceptions from 1964-79. Rod Woodson (71), Charles Woodson (65) and Ed Reed (64) came relatively close recently but never really threatened.