After a season with a favorable schedule and countless injuries to the team, the Cleveland Browns found themselves at 11-5 and a playoff spot. In the off-season, each position group is checked against the performance of each player. This analysis will pay off in solidifying a roster improvement plan in 2021. General Manager Andrew Berry will have his hands full this off-season building on an impressive first year in unprecedented circumstances.
During Berry’s first off-season as GM of the Cleveland Browns, he put a lot of emphasis on solidifying the offensive line and adding flexibility to the caps to rebuild the defense in the 2021 season. Those improvements in the trenches were definitely a factor in Baker Mayfield’s third year jump.
305-486 (62.8 Comp.%)
3,563 overtaking spots
26 TDs – 8 INT
PFF Season Grades
85.7 degree of offensive (8./36.)
85.1 pass note (8./36.)
58.1 running grade
The third season of Baker Mayfield brought with it growth that was necessary for the Browns to jump into the playoffs. With his fourth head coach, Mayfield was able to gain a foothold as the leader of the Cleveland Browns and command the offensive with confidence. Over the course of the season, head coach Kevin Stefanski tailored the offensive program to Baker Mayfield’s ability to throw the ball in motion. With his mobility through the constant use of bootlegs, the planned rollouts and the game activity, Mayfield has effectively moved football.
The problems from Mayfield’s sophomore slump were his decision-making and the inconsistent game out of his pocket. Stefanski developed a schematic game plan that gave Baker Mayfield clear and simple readings for his temporary progress. These changes had a direct impact on minimizing Mayfield’s regressions and maximizing his skills that made him number one overall. Every week one could see how Mayfield was feeling more comfortable in Stefanski’s offensive program.
As a result, Mayfield arguably had his best season as a professional. From a purely numerical standpoint, he didn’t jump significantly as his passing mileage was the lowest of his career. Also, he hasn’t reached his rookie season on touchdowns (27), but what stands out this season is what Mayfield avoided. Mayfield had the lowest total interception total in his career and dramatically improved his touchdown to interception ratio from previous seasons. This season, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 3: 1 and a major step forward from the 1: 1 ratio in 2019.
Mayfield’s ability to protect the ball during the season earned the top quarterback rating (QBR) of his career. These improvements weren’t immediately noticeable, however, as the offensive focus was on running the football at the start of the season and around Goodbye Week. Kevin Stefanski’s dedication to the running game opened the success of Playaction Passing, from which most of Mayfield’s production came. The defenders’ slight hesitation in deciphering the game gave Mayfield time to pull out the bag for unobstructed throw marks.
By the same token, Mayfield’s ability to consistently find throwbacks out of the pocket remains an area that needs improvement. Throughout his young career, Mayfield struggled with passports being hit at the border, particularly with internal pressures on the face. If you develop the confidence to step up and slide in your pocket, Mayfield can help find lanes of lanes around larger lines of defense. Another area of his game that is still a little question mark is his ability to throw the ball over the sideline in close man coverage.
Mayfield’s pass outside of the pocket numbers wasn’t shown much, mostly due to game calls. In addition, the broad receiver core this season was not a group that consistently hit the defensive back in the man cover outside the field. Baker Mayfield has the arm talent and dexterity to do the throws, but it’s difficult to develop in an area that you don’t have to show off often. The importance of delivering the ball evenly deep down the sideline is that the offense helps create large games vertically without the use of game actions.
Passing game actions was a prerequisite for the offense, and Mayfield found tremendous success completing the game actions. But late in the regular season and in the playoffs, teams adapted to the offenses, using bootlegs and rollouts to vertically stretch the defense. Mayfield cementing this part of his game will add another wave to the offensive schedule that the defense can keep honest. Overall, Mayfield improved numerous aspects of his repertoire such as throwing mechanics, decision making, and red zone efficiency.
At the start of the season there were questions about Mayfield’s ability to be a true franchise quarterback, and he stepped up to the board. Mayfield’s maturity and growth meant that he can be the quarterback keeping this organization away from football purgatory. Beginning his fourth season with a $ 10.56 million cap hit, Mayfield’s future with the team shouldn’t be questioned. GM Andrew Berry has until May 3 to exercise Mayfield’s fifth year option. This gives the front office more time to determine the best contract renewal for him and the future of the team.
In the short term, the Browns quarterback situation is safe and Case Keenum provides security in case something should happen to Baker Mayfield. Keenum was a major off-season acquisition last year as it publicized Stefanski’s offensive program and mentoring veterans. Luckily for the team, Keenum only played 15 snaps this season, in its sixth week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Comfort with Keenum in certain circumstances is achievable because his best career season came back in Minnesota with Kevin Stefanski.
This doesn’t mean Keenum should start over Baker Mayfield, but in the event of injury he would be a viable starter for two or three games. Keenum is essentially a suspension to stay on the roster for the next season on his $ 7.33 million cap hit. Though Berry could try to restructure Keenum’s contract to bring his cap hit down. The team has an out for 2022, but to save money in the short term it is definitely possible to move money to 2023.
No matter what happens to his contract, having Keenum on the list is valuable. He provides stability to the offensive coaching staff and remains a player who pushes Mayfield during training camp. His experienced leadership is also valuable in the development of QB Kyle Lauletta.
Lauletta is the third quarterback to sign for next season and could become a long-term backup option. The former University of Richmond quarterback was drafted in the fourth round of the New York Giants in 2018. He appeared in two games that year and spent most of 2019 on the Philadelphia Eagles’ training team. Lauletta joined the Browns practice group back in October and is a player Andrew Berry knows from his time with the Eagles.
Lauletta will likely remain a candidate for the training team, but if he develops a lot in the off-season he could push Case Keenum for the replacement role. Overall, the Cleveland Browns have a good quarterback space and Baker Mayfield’s advancement will continue to be the focus in 2021. This is a nice change from previous regimes where the quarterback position was always a concern. Now, after visiting the Divisional Round, Mayfield’s eyes are likely to be on a Pro Bowl nod and an appearance in the AFC Championship.