Can Baker Mayfield do in his second season in Cleveland what Patrick Mahomes did for the Kansas City Chiefs? We are about to find out.
The Cleveland Browns’ quarterback drew high marks from just about everyone (or at least those not named Colin Cowherd) last season for his play on the field. He led the Browns to a 7-8-1 record.
The quarterback did have some controversy off the field, mostly regarding former coach Hue Jackson.
However, this year feels different… because it is different.
The support is there, especially now that the Browns added superstar-caliber skill-position players Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt.
Unlike Mahomes, Mayfield crushed it as a rookie. There’s no questioning his readiness after the 2018 No. 1 pick completed 68.3 percent of his passes and posted a 108.4 passer rating while winning five of his last seven starts.
Gone — at least for now — are the days of the Browns being the laughingstock of the league. People actually want to watch this team.
No one should be expecting Mayfield to throw for 50 or more scores in 2019. Can he recreate that team success, and become an MVP candidate in the mold of Mahomes? Perhaps.
Consider this: The 2018 Browns won more games with Mayfield than they won in their previous 3.5 years without Mayfield. From Nov. 6, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2017, the Browns’ record was 6-50.
Then Mayfield rode into town and they’re 7-7-1.
Valuable? Most definitely.
By conventional measures, probably not, but in the win-loss impact on a franchise, what Mayfield did last year was not just noteworthy, it was historic.
Heading into 2019, Mayfield’s job will be to capitalize on that.
He threw for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns last year — breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 26 touchdowns — despite not playing in the first two games of the season. Now he gets to throw to Beckham. Mayfield could put up massive stats in his second-year campaign.
I’ll admit that I didn’t initially love the shotgun marriage with Freddie Kitchens as the head coach, but it should help Mayfield’s growth. Given how Mayfield performed in the back half of last season, with Kitchens as his offensive coordinator following the firing of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, I get it.
However, if this experiment doesn’t work out, it’ll get ugly sooner rather than later.
For a team that has not had a record above .500 since 2007, the Browns may be in a no-win situation in 2019, especially Kitchens. With the expectations surrounding the Browns, anything less than a winning season will be deemed a failure.
Also, Cleveland is seen as the favorite in the AFC North and is expected to be the champion of a division in flux. The Browns are favored to win the AFC North with +125 odds, according to Ben Axelrod of WKYC.com.
So much has been made of the highs this team could ascend to. What if it hits bumps along the way? What will that do to Mayfield’s resume, let alone the team as a whole?
There is a good chance the Browns will hit those bumps throughout the season and not reach the expectations put on them. This is not a team that has been together for multiple seasons and built good chemistry. This is a relatively new team with a bunch of turnover on the coaching staff.
We’ve seen this scenario play out before. There have been several teams over the years who have stockpiled talent expecting to make a run at the Super Bowl. These teams have varying levels of success; this is no guarantee of prosperity.
Navigating these dynamics will be the key to Mayfield’s MVP bid. If the Browns earn a winning record and win the AFC North while having their best season in more than a decade, everything Mayfield did last season, accompanied by recent successes, will have him at the forefront of the conversation.
If Cleveland fails to meet expectations, Mayfield may only be viewed as the most valuable preseason hype machine.