Doug Lesmerises of cleveland.com is exploring what the Browns should do next in his “Mayfield Matrix” series, with the latest dipping into the possibility of a veteran coming in to backup Mayfield and be an option if things go south.
It’s the best of both worlds if it works – a fifth year for Mayfield to be great, and a midseason answer waiting in the wings if it doesn’t work. It doesn’t run as much risk of wasting the season as the option of going all-in with Mayfield without a real potential replacement.
Bridgewater, Mariota, Mitch Trubisky and Sam Darnold are names that were pitched as potential options. It would give the Browns something similar to what the Titans had in 2019, when Mariota was replaced by Ryan Tannehill.
Bridgewater is set to be a free agent this offseason after starting for the Broncos last season. Denver was the fifth team of his career and his third different team in three seasons.
He turned in a similar stat line to Browns starter Baker Mayfield, passing for 3,052 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 14 games played this season. Mayfield racked up 3,010 yards in 14 games, notching 17 touchdowns but nearly double the interceptions with 13.
Browns Backing Baker Mayfield — For Now
The Browns leadership has been consistent in their messaging that Mayfield will be the starter next year, with both head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry backing the former top overall pick.
“We fully expect Baker to be our starter and bounce back,” Berry said at his press conference on January 11.
However, that doesn’t mean the team won’t explore their options, especially in the backup space if it would cause more internal competition. The Browns have Case Keenum under contract for next season but can part ways with him with little cap repercussions.
Keenum went 2-0 the two times he was called upon — one win coming against Denver and the other in the Browns season finale against the Bengals. However, it was clear the Browns didn’t have enough confidence to start Keenum over Mayfield, even when he was compromised due to injury. Considering the team is paying Keenum more than $6 million per season, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Browns to look elsewhere for a more convincing option.
Mutual Respect Between Stefanski and Mayfield
For as much scuttlebutt as there’s been about Mayfield’s future in Cleveland, the best plan for both parties is to give him a shot and hope he can prove that he’s the future behind center for the Browns. The team has already exercised his fifth-year option worth nearly $19 million and Mayfield’s trade value will be zilch off a down year and offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.
While upgrading the Browns’ wide receivers will be a key to the offseason, Mayfield continuing to build on his relationship with Stefanski — the team’s offensive play-caller — will be paramount to the team’s success.
“It’s good. We talked. He’s going to get surgery, which is huge for him, and he can start the rehab process here and get ready to jump back into it,” Stefanski said. “But Baker and I, I think we work well together.
“I respect him. He respects me. I push him. He understands how we operate. We’ve had two years together, and I think as a team we’ve certainly just had our ups and downs. But I do think that we push each other, and there’s definitely a level of respect there.”
Mayfield is scheduled to have shoulder surgery on January 19 and is expected to be ready for all team activities.