Q: You are now GM Petrak … are you going pay Baker Mayfield? Also do you move on from OBJ next year?
— Randy Clar
A: Man, we’re not messing around on a Sunday morning. These are critical questions about the organization’s future and its two highest-profile players.
The jury is clearly still out on whether Mayfield is the long-term answer, so I can’t commit at this time to paying him upward of $30 million a year. But I would expect after the season — when the team can first offer Mayfield an extension — that I would choose to do so. I saw enough in Mayfield at Oklahoma and as a rookie to believe the Year 2 regression can be overcome. And I’m encouraged by the last two games.
But luckily the season’s 16 games, because general manger Andrew Berry will want every snap possible to evaluate Mayfield. He needs to improve the consistency of his accuracy and decision-making and prove he can execute often enough inside the pocket, but I am confident he’ll get there under coach Kevin Stefanski. Where the situation gets dicey for the Browns is the huge dollars paid to franchise quarterbacks. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes signed a 10-year, $450 million extension, and Houston’s Deshaun Watson a four-year, $156 million extension. Depending on how Mayfield performs this season, it would seem outrageous for him to ask for that type of money, but he’ll certainly want something in the ballpark. The choice for the Browns could eventually become whether they could find someone close to as good for less money. That’s a huge risk, especially if the Browns finally have some stability at the game’s most important position.
As for receiver Odell Beckham Jr., I’m in no hurry to get rid of him. And I don’t think Berry is, either. I think Beckham has matured, reached a comfort level in Northeast Ohio and wants to stay. I also know the Browns would then need a No. 1 wideout and they’re tough to find. So unless the rest of the season is a disaster, I’m keeping Beckham.
Q: It seems that our starting cornerback tandem is somewhat fragile. Does the team need to address this position in the near future, or do you think Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams have just been unlucky?
A: This is a fair question. I hate to label players “fragile” or “injury prone,” especially this early in their careers, but the trend is concerning. Ward missed three games as a rookie in 2018 with a pair of concussions, four games last year with a hamstring injury and is dealing with a groin injury now. Williams missed four games with a hamstring injury as a rookie last year and will miss his fourth straight game today with a shoulder injury suffered in August.
Again, I’d like to see how the rest of the season plays out before making any conclusions. But even if the organization trusts Ward to be a healthy No. 1 cornerback moving forward, if there are doubts about Williams, I could certainly see Berry look for a more reliable No. 2. That’s a position that grows in importance by the year and where depth is critical.
Q: Hey Scott — I am wondering when/if Ronnie Harrison’s usage is going to increase. Is there any sign or indication he will take the free safety role away from Andrew Sendejo? Seems like he has way more talent and upside.
A: The coaches keep saying Harrison’s role will grow, but he played only six of 64 defensive snaps last week against Washington, and those were all in three-safety packages with starters Sendejo and Karl Joseph. With that said, I do expect Harrison to get more time as the season progresses. Berry recognized a deficit at safety after rookie Grant Delpit was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon and traded for Harrison, who started 22 games with the Jaguars.
And your point about Sendejo is legitimate. He may have the trust of the coaching staff — he’s the game captain today against the Cowboys — but has struggled through three games. So I think the coaches are waiting until Harrison feels more comfortable in the defense before beginning the transition from Sendejo.
I don’t know when that will be.
Q: A lot of talk about injuries this week led to this question. In your mailbag, Bob from Akron asked about the volume of injuries. One of your articles later that week quoted Coach Kevin Stefanski that Mack Wilson will have a higher snap count next game as he progresses in his return from injury. Then JC Tretter published an article citing data that injuries to players are more severe on artificial turf than natural grass. It would be an oversimplification to compare the use of pitch counts in baseball to football because the collisions that take place in the NFL do not exist in other sports but it occurred to me that if the Browns have “play counts” for returning players, could data like that mentioned by Tretter be used to minimize risks to healthy players? Once upon a time, pitch counts did not exist in baseball. If a baseball pitcher’s fatigue increases his risk of injury at 100 pitches, maybe a football player should sit down after a certain amount of collisions? Just curious, what do you think, is this an area players or front offices are thinking about?
— John Palazzo
A: Great question.
I know teams are spending more time studying the injury data and monitoring the players’ physical exertion during practice and games. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see your suggestion implemented. We’ve already seen teams alter their approach at the start of training camp to try to limit soft-tissue injuries. I’m not sure we’ll see wholesale changes — offensive linemen and cornerbacks tend to play every snap because the drop-off to their backups is huge — but if the data is overwhelming, who knows. I could especially see pitch counts for more interchangeable positions such as running back, receiver and linebacker.
I’m glad you mentioned Wilson’s return. We should all remember that this is a unique year with no offseason practices or preseason games. While we’re used to seeing players immediately thrust into full-time action upon returning, Stefanski made a valid point that for those players who were hurt early in camp, like Wilson, they haven’t built up the normal offseason reps and must proceed with caution.
Q: Thinking Rashard Higgins could be departing soon. Taywan Taylor into JoJo Natson’s role?
— Mark Leonard
A: I don’t expect Higgins’ playing time to increase much — he’s a healthy scratch for the second straight week — but I haven’t gotten any indication the Browns are looking to get rid of him. I think they like the depth he provides in case of injury.
I, too, have been curious about a replacement for Natson. He only touched the ball once, on an end-around, but was used often as a speedy decoy on the jet sweep motion, which helps keep the defense honest and open lanes for the running backs. Taylor could fill that role, but I think the first option is rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Q: Might as well face it, I’m addicted to Chubb. Can we make this song happen in the spirit of “Bernie Bernie”? Counting on you for this.
— Phil from Ridgewood
A: Anyone who’s seen me sing karaoke knows I’m not the one for this job. But if I were thinking of possible song titles to honor Nick Chubb, I would be more inclined to go with “All You Need is Chubb,” or maybe “Chubb Will Keep Us Together.”