If Baker Mayfield could just stay healthy and play well, it would make him and the Browns quite happy.
The Browns would be on the hook for a contract extension worth more than $40 million per year. But at least they would know that Mayfield is a legitimate franchise quarterback and worth the high price tag. You don’t see the Chiefs complaining about having to pay Patrick Mahomes, or the Bills having to pay Josh Allen.
But Mayfield hasn’t been healthy and playing well in 2021. In fact, he has been the opposite. Mayfield has been playing with a left shoulder injury since Week 2, when he had to pop it back in against the Texans. Mayfield suffered his second dislocation of the season last Sunday against the Cardinals, and he missed Thursday’s game against the Broncos. He also told Fox’s Jay Glazer that he fractured the humerus bone in the shoulder and probably can’t return until it heals.
Mayfield will need surgery at some point to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder but wants to play through the injury. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he can’t put a timetable on Mayfield’s return yet.
“I’m not sure anyone in the organization truly knows yet what this is going to look like for Baker Mayfield,” Fox’s Troy Aikman said during Thursday’s Browns-Broncos game.
The injuries are clearly affecting Mayfield’s play, and complicating the Browns’ decision with Mayfield’s future. While Allen has signed an extension that will pay him $43 million per year, the Browns have a much trickier decision to make with Mayfield. He has been good through three-plus years but not great. Mayfield seems to be improving each year, but he also is playing for a coach who has a history of getting the most out of quarterbacks.
Fortunately, the Browns have some time to make their decision. Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, is under contract for $18.858 million guaranteed next year after the Browns picked up his fifth-year option.
But the Browns would rather make the decision sooner than later. Going into 2022 without a decision on Mayfield will bring unnecessary stress and drama to the situation.
The 2021 season was supposed to give the Browns clarity on Mayfield’s future but instead has only clouded it.
Mayfield hasn’t been terrible in 2021, with the highest passer rating of his career (97.8) and a terrific 8.4 yards per attempt. But following last year’s 11-5 season and wild-card win, Mayfield is just 3-3 as a starter this year, his QBR is down significantly from last year (72.2 to 41.6), and he is taking a lot of sacks — on pace for 48 over 16 games, compared with 26 last year.
Now, an undersized quarterback listed at 6 feet 1 inch is having trouble staying healthy.
“His lack of foot speed and quickness leads to him getting hit a lot, which in turn leads to injuries,” former Dolphins and Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum recently wrote for The 33rd Team. “If I was Cleveland, I would proceed carefully on an extension for him.”
Mayfield is the third-best quarterback from 2018 — clearly behind Allen and Lamar Jackson, but also clearly ahead of Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. Since the start of 2020, Mayfield ranks 17th in the NFL in passer rating (96.4), which sounds decent enough for an ascending player. But of the quarterbacks ranked below him, the only ones you would feel good about as your franchise guy are Joe Burrow, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Matt Ryan.
Mayfield has shown impressive toughness this year as he plays through his injuries. But he also has a coach in Stefanski who got a career year out of Case Keenum in 2017 with Minnesota, churned top-10 years out of Kirk Cousins in 2018 and 2019, and coaxed significant improvement out of Mayfield in 2020, including cutting his interceptions significantly.
The Browns weren’t too explosive on offense in Thursday night’s win over the Broncos with Keenum subbing for Mayfield. But Keenum completed 63.6 percent of his passes, threw for 199 yards and a touchdown, and the Browns didn’t turn the ball over in a 17-14 win.
“Mayfield may be surprisingly more replaceable than anticipated considering Stefanski’s success with other quarterbacks in Minnesota,” Tannenbaum wrote.
Mayfield wants to get back in the lineup as soon as possible and is holding out hope that he can return for next Sunday’s game against the Steelers. And the Browns probably want Mayfield to get back in the lineup quickly — he’s their best option, and they would love to get more information about Mayfield as they navigate his contract extension.
But after three-plus years, the Browns still probably don’t know what they have in Mayfield. And they may not leave this season knowing if they should pay Mayfield the going rate for franchise quarterbacks ($40 million) or if they should start over at the position.
pressure on WFT
One of the most revolting aspects of the workplace investigation into the Washington Football Team was that the NFL ordered lead investigator Beth Wilkinson not to produce a written report of her findings, and instead to do it verbally.
Now it’s becoming clear why. Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to Roger Goodell requesting documents and information concerning the WFT’s workplace culture and the NFL’s investigation.
The committee is requesting all documents obtained through the investigation, including the 650,000 e-mails that ensnared former Raiders coach Jon Gruden and NFL executive Jeff Pash, but may also implicate many other executives with the WFT and NFL.
“We have serious concerns about what appears to be widespread abusive workplace conduct at the WFT and about the NFL’s handling of this matter,” wrote the committee, chaired by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “Communications between league management and WFT leadership also raise questions about the league’s asserted impartiality in these investigations. In addition, we are deeply troubled by the reported use of nondisclosure agreements to potentially conceal inappropriate behavior, including conduct that is prohibited by federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”
The NFL continues to decline to release the 650,000 e-mails related to the WFT investigation. And WFT owner Dan Snyder continues to somehow escape culpability for fostering an organization where cheerleaders were allegedly pressured to get cozy with team sponsors; team executives produced videos of and e-mailed pictures of topless cheerleaders; and Snyder himself paid out $1.6 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
That lack of culpability may soon change. An NFL spokesman said the league is looking forward to speaking with Maloney and the committee soon. But the NFL at least can hide under the cover that it doesn’t have a written report from Wilkinson that the oversight committee could use against the NFL.
by the numbers
A few stats relating to the Patriots’ offense that stood out while making my weekly scan through the STATS LLC databases:
▪ Josh McDaniels mentioned in his weekly news conference that the Patriots have been good on third-and-short this year, and the numbers check out. The Patriots are tied for eighth in the NFL at converting third downs of 3 yards or fewer (66.7 percent, 18 of 27). They have converted 8 of 11 attempts when rushing the ball and 10 of 16 attempts when passing.
It’s further evidence that Bill Belichick needs to be more aggressive on fourth down.
▪ The Patriots are just 24th in scoring (21.2 points per game), but they have had the third-best starting field position in the NFL (31.5-yard line). The Patriots are one of three teams that doesn’t have an 80-yard touchdown drive (Ravens, Jets).
▪ The Patriots have made a field goal on 21.9 percent of their drives (14 of 64), the highest rate in the NFL. They have made a touchdown on 18.8 percent of drives (12 of 64), the 26th-highest rate.
▪ On their first possessions after halftime, the Patriots have more turnovers (two interceptions and a lost fumble) than scores (one touchdown, one field goal).
▪ Before Kendrick Bourne’s 75-yard touchdown against the Cowboys, the Patriots hadn’t had a play of more than 35 yards. But surprisingly, they are tied for the 10th-most plays of 20-plus yards. They have had 21 passes and five runs of at least 20 yards this season.
But expand the criteria to 25-yard passes, and the Patriots rank 25th with 10. So they are creating a good number of passes in the 20- to 25-yard range but aren’t producing the huge chunk plays.
Henry dominating pass-happy league
The most fascinating player in the NFL these days may be Derrick Henry, the Titans’ tank of a running back. In a pass-happy era where running backs have never had lower value, Henry dominates the league.
His 921 yards from scrimmage are 239 more than any player, and his 10 touchdowns lead the league by three. On his 76-yard touchdown run against Buffalo, Henry topped out at 21.8 miles per hour, per NFL Next Gen Stats, making him the fastest ball carrier this season. That’s almost incomprehensible for a running back listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds.
Henry enters Sunday’s showdown with the Chiefs with 783 rushing yards and is just the third player ever with 750 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns through his team’s first six games, joining Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1958) and Eric Dickerson (1983).
Henry deserves to be in the discussion for MVP, and watching him rush for 143 yards and three touchdowns against the Bills on Monday night conjured a thought: Could Henry be one of the last running backs elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Careers are so short now, and the position has become such a revolving door, that it’s difficult for today’s running backs to establish a level of dominance that is deserving of Canton.
Difficult for everyone but Henry, that is.
Murray is a blitz-beater
A word of advice to defensive coordinators: Don’t blitz Kyler Murray.
The Cardinals’ third-year quarterback has been incredible this year when facing at least five pass rushers. He is 27 of 36 for 446 yards, a 75 percent completion rate, a league-high 12.4 yards per attempt, five touchdowns, and no interceptions for a near-perfect 155.8 passer rating (perfect is 158.3). Murray has taken five sacks, but he also has five scrambles for 39 yards against the blitz, four of which went for first downs.
“Kyler Murray reminds me of Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson put together,” Julian Edelman said this past week on “Inside the NFL.”
The rest of the top five in passer rating against the blitz: Patrick Mahomes (150.5), Teddy Bridgewater (146.1 before Thursday night), Wilson (136.0), and Tom Brady (133.7).
The bottom five: Zach Wilson (39.8), Justin Fields (51.2), Davis Mills (61.9), Daniel Jones (64.2), and Jacoby Brissett (64.3). Mac Jones ranks 25th out of 32 (74.8, with two touchdowns and four interceptions).
‘Awkward Bowl’ set for Sunday
Sunday’s Rams-Lions game may as well be dubbed the Awkward Bowl. Matthew Stafford will probably feel a little awkward saying hello to some of his old teammates and Lions staffers. Stafford requested a trade out of Detroit, and while Stafford is 5-1 and enjoying sunny California, the Lions he left behind are 0-6 under new coach Dan Campbell. It will also probably be a little awkward when Sean McVay and the Rams say hello to Lions quarterback Jared Goff, who was unceremoniously included in the Stafford deal.
“I wish there was better, clearer communication,” McVay said of trading Goff, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 and helped get the Rams to a Super Bowl. “To say that it was perfectly handled on my end, I wouldn’t be totally accurate in that.”
But the reunion between J.J. Watt and the Texans in Arizona may not be so awkward, because Watt won’t recognize many of the players wearing Texans uniforms. Mainstays such as Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, Johnathan Joseph, and DeAndre Hopkins (now with the Cardinals) are long gone.
“It’s been so massively turned over that there’s only a handful of guys that are even there from last year that I played with,” Watt said this past week. “So, it’s not like, ‘Oh, I want to go and beat my old team,’ or ‘Oh, I can’t wait to face this guy,’ because it’s not the same team. It’s not the same organization that I remember and that I was a part of.”
The report this past week from the Houston Chronicle that the Texans are expected to trade Deshaun Watson soon to the Dolphins seemed like a case of the Texans trying to light a fire under the Dolphins to get the compensation they’re looking for. The Texans have until Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. to trade Watson, or else they have to hold onto him until March. The Texans, not the NFL, are keeping Watson off the field, and it’s possible that Watson could play right away if traded. Dolphins GM Chris Grier should be hesitant to unload a massive package of first-round picks and players for Watson without knowing if he will be eligible to play. But Grier and coach Brian Flores are undoubtedly desperate to get this season back on track and figure out the quarterback position, since Tua Tagovailoa isn’t looking like the long-term answer ... Tom Brady is two touchdown passes from being the first NFL quarterback to 600. And his matchup Sunday against the Bears’ Fields will be the first time that Brady, a Michigan grad, has faced an Ohio State quarterback, in his 353rd NFL game. The only OSU quarterbacks that have overlapped with Brady are Dwayne Haskins, Troy Smith, and Cardale Jones … The Rams, Buccaneers, and 49ers are the only teams to have had the same five starting offensive linemen for all of their games this season … Fascinating stat line for Dolphins rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle. His 37 catches are tied with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for ninth-most in the NFL. But Waddle has just 301 yards, which ranks 52nd. And his 8.1 yards per catch rank 128th overall, and 82nd out of 83 qualifying receivers. Neither of his quarterbacks (Tagovailoa and Brissett) have done much to push the ball downfield … Likely in response to the Jon Gruden e-mails, the Raiders announced that the Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band will perform at halftime of Sunday’s game against the Eagles. And Grammy Award-winning singer Yolanda Adams, who performed “America the Beautiful” at Super Bowl LIV, will perform the national anthem.