The success or failure of virtually any franchise lives or dies with the growth and development of their young quarterback, in this day and age. Unless you happen upon an all-time great in free agency, as the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.
The Cleveland Browns are in the process of doing it the hard way, but while there is progress, it remains to be seen if their franchise quarterback, Baker Mayfield, is ultimately going to have what it takes to make it all the way. Granted, he’s only three years into his career, and has done some impressive things, but at this stage in his career, there remain some lingering questions.
One thing that will help is stability, as he has had four different head coaches and offensive coordinators over the course of his first three seasons in the NFL. They now have that, seemingly, with Kevin Stefanski at head coach (who called the plays last year as well) and Alex Van Pelt at offensive coordinator. And the comfort in that sense of stability has seen Mayfield mature, in multiple ways.
“I think we’re all pleased to see the growth in Baker last year as a player and as a leader”, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said yesterday. “I think we all understand how important quarterback is in the NFL, so we were delighted to see that”.
Browns general manager Andrew Berry has been unnecessarily coy as to whether or not the team would sign him to a long-term extension this offseason after picking up his fifth-year option, as though there is any question, but Haslam seemed to give it away yesterday, saying that it was “up to Andrew to decide when that happens”, rather than if.
Mayfield completed 305 of 486 pass attempts last season for 3563 yards, 26 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. There is certainly room for improvement in those numbers, but there’s also reason to expect growth as they get Odell Beckham, Jr. back, add to the skill positions, and grow as an offense.
They have also been a run-first offense, or near abouts, accounting for very nearly as many rushing attempts last season as passing attempts. Despite missing four games, Nick Chubb rushed for 1067 yards on just 190 attempts with 12 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and Kareem Hunt chipped in another 841, plus six scores on the ground.
The Browns have a strong foundation on offense surrounding Mayfield, with a quality offensive line, a great backfield, and talented pass catchers. Add in stability at the play-calling level and you have the recipe for the maturation of a young arm. It’s up to him to live up to it.