Baker Mayfield was in a reflective mood Monday after being reminded it was the third anniversary of the Browns surprising many experts and drafting him with the No. 1 pick. He’s seen and experienced a lot in three years — including a UFO.
“It has been a good journey, but it is nowhere close to being done,” he said on a Zoom call with reporters. “I think that is the best part.”
Mayfield had plenty of ground to cover in his first meeting with reporters since after the 22-17 loss to the Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs. In addition to the UFO sighting in March in Austin, Texas, the Browns picked up the fifth-year option on the quarterback’s rookie contract Friday, which renewed questions about a long-term extension that could pay Mayfield upward of $35 million a year.
“I’m truly thankful for them taking the chance, (general manager) Andrew (Berry) and the Haslam family, for picking up that fifth-year option and making it one more year in Cleveland, extending this journey that we started three years ago today,” Mayfield said. “I’ve been kind of thinking about that all day, so I’m very happy about that.
“In terms of long-term deals or all that, I’m taking it one day at a time. I’ve still got two seasons left on this full rookie contract now to see what happens.”
Berry won’t publicly discuss contract negotiations but said Friday that Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward, who was drafted three picks after Mayfield and also had his fifth year picked up, will be a “big part of what we do as we move forward.”
The Browns are expected to sign Mayfield to a long-term extension. The summer would be the expected timeline for a deal to get done this year, but one or both sides could choose to wait until after the season.
“Right now it’s about setting up a foundation for this upcoming season and continuing to build on what we left with last year and continue to improve,” Mayfield said. “The fifth-year option just happened, so a long-term deal I think is a little bit on the backburner for me. I’m not worried about it, I want to go out and win games.
“If we win games, everything will happen how it should. That is my mentality, and I truly do believe that.”
A different belief will generate more discussion. Mayfield created a stir last month when he tweeted about spotting a UFO with his wife, Emily, as they drove home from dinner. He stuck to his guns, and story, Monday.
“I am a firm believer in UFOs and Sasquatch,” he said. “It is real. I saw it. I am glad the Navy finally confirmed some more pictures. Now everybody doesn’t think I am as crazy. I believe.”
He described the scene.
“It was nighttime so when you are looking at your phone screen, everything is dark around you and you can only see that light, but it was bright enough to where it caught her attention, too,” he said of Emily. “We kind of just looked at each other, ‘Did you just see that? Yeah.’ Other people in that area confirmed, too.”
The offseason program, which started April 19, will look a lot different than normal for the second straight year. At least the first four weeks will be strictly remote, and the Browns players announced they won’t attend any voluntary in-person workouts.
“We all kind of came together and decided that opting out and doing the whole virtual offseason, just knowing that safety precautions but also what we were able to accomplish from all across the country last year installing a whole new system for everybody,” Mayfield said. “It has been good to get on these virtual meetings and start to see these guys faces again and talk ball with them.”
Mayfield hosted some of the skill-position players in Austin last offseason and plans to do it again, despite the NFL Players Association recommending against it to protect players from injury.
“We will eventually get together, there is no doubt about that,” Mayfield said. “We are going to try to do everything that we can and do it as safely as possible, but we know we have to put the work in right now to start fast and hit the ground running come fall.”
He’s excited about the six new faces on defense acquired in free agency, led by safety John Johnson III and end Jadeveon Clowney.
“I have been extremely impressed with the pieces that we are bringing in and reaching out to these guys to welcome them in with open arms to know that they are coming into a place that wants to win, inviting the guys who want to contribute and obviously are key essential pieces and will help us out a ton,” Mayfield said. “We are setting the expectations ourselves. I am excited about the people we have brought in just culture-wise.”
He’s also comforted by the continuity. All 11 starters return on offense, and for the first time in Mayfield’s NFL career the head coach and system return for a second season.
“When it comes to continuity, everybody being on the same page and having the same goals, that is so important,” he said. “I am obviously looking forward to it and continuing to build on what we had started last year. We were not satisfied when it came to just making it into the playoffs, winning one game and then losing in the next round. That is the great part about what we have coming back is everybody got a little taste of that and some guys who have made it further, everybody is hungry for more.”
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is on that list even though he missed the playoffs with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in Week 7. The offense found its groove after the injury, but Mayfield says the success was independent of Beckham’s absence.
“Where we were before his injury happened on an underthrown ball by me was that we truly did not have a true identity on offense at that point,” he said. “That took our bye week right in the middle of the season last year to really sit down and do a self-scout and for us to grow. I have talked to Odell. He is very happy with where he is in the rehab process. I am happy for him. He looks good. He feels good. We are looking forward to getting back to work together.”
Mayfield devoted himself to an eating and training regimen last offseason that allowed him to return for the season in much better shape than in 2019. He said the personal and team success in 2020 motivates him to work “even harder” this offseason.
“The part about me and my competitiveness to never be satisfied, I think that is a huge reason why I am here today and why I am at this level of playing in the NFL,” he said. “For me, it is continuing to harness that and work even harder because it is not over. I also think that everything I did last offseason, I kind of carried through a little bit of that throughout the year so I am able to start even more ahead of schedule this offseason.”
That feeling runs throughout the organization as the Browns look to use last year’s playoff trip as a springboard to much greater things. After plenty of valleys, Mayfield looks forward to more peaks.
“It has been a roller coaster over the past three years,” He said. “I think the time we put in for not just things on the field but culture-wise and setting a standard is finally coming into fruition to where you can start to see it and the bigger picture play out. That is why I am excited about the guys who we have coming back. This is the first time ever in my career that you have 11 guys who at one point started on this offense all coming back. I think that is truly pretty special.
“When it comes into terms of looking back three years ago to this day, a life-changing moment for me, my family, friends and being surrounded by a lot of teammates and lifelong friends now.”