After disappointing 2021, are Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns headed toward a split?


We expected to be better this season.

Baker Mayfield talks about the disappointing season of the Cleveland Browns and how he has dealt with his injuries. 2 minutes later.

11:50 AM

The last time Baker Mayfield was in Pittsburgh, he took a knee to win a playoff game.

The game ball was still in hand, and Cleveland's other former No. 1 overall pick, Myles Garrett, was waiting. The two met in the air.

It felt as if there was no doubt about the man. The Browns had been aimlessly wandering through the quarterbacking wilderness for decades.

Big Ben's legacy is inside.

Is Mayfield headed for split?

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A rejuvenated Mayfield, who had weathered early turmoil in Cleveland, seemed destined to be behind center for the next decade-plus. A long-term contract extension was in the works.

As the Browns head back to Pittsburgh for Monday Night Football, much has changed. The program is on the cable network, ESPN. The Cleveland Indians have been eliminated from the playoffs with two games to play, after entering the 2021 season with Super Bowl expectations.

While playing through multiple injuries, including a torn labrum to his non-throwing left shoulder, he has struggled in his fourth NFL season. He is the only one of the rookies who were drafted last year to be in the top 25 in QBR.

The numbers have been worse in the fourth quarter. He's last among qualified quarterbacks in fourth-quarter QBR (23.4 on a scale 0-100) and fourth-quarter completion percentage (51.6%) with the highest fourth-quarter off-target rate. Last week's season-crushing, 24-22 loss in Green Bay, which ended with his career-high fourth interception of the day, was the fifth time this season that the quarterback has gone 0-for-5 on potential game-winning drives.

In the middle of the season, the father of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. forced his way out of Cleveland, and he was angry with the player. Fans booed the player during games. His wife said last week that some people had made death threats on social media.

The front office is likely to take a hard look at moving forward with Mayfield, despite having already exercised the fifth-year option on his contract, which will pay him $18.86 million. After another chaotic year in Cleveland, he could be ready to reexamine his own situation.

It would've been unthinkable for the two teams to split a year ago. The pervading question in Cleveland was whether or not Mayfield would get an extension before his final season under contract, or if he would even be the starting quarterback in 2022.

The injury.

The labrum in his left shoulder was torn in Week 2 when he tried to make a tackle after an intercept.

In Cleveland's season opener, he picked up where he left off. On their first three possessions, the Browns scored three times and led by 10.

Cleveland fell apart. After being tripped up on a potential game-winning drive that resulted in a game-ending interception, he bounced back in Week 2 by completing his first nine passes.

On his 11th attempt, he threw an intercept over the middle of the field. Instead of giving up on the play, he raced to the right and stuck his left shoulder into the body of the Houston Texans safety.

The injury to the labrum that was suffered by Mayfield changed the trajectory of Cleveland's season. He didn't miss a snap. He was never the same. In his first two games, the best rate in the league, he completed 82% of his passes, but his completion rate has plummeted to fifth-worst in the league.

In Week 6 of the season, J.J. Watt drove the left shoulder into the ground, causing a harness to be worn on it. Mayfield finished that game as well. Case Keenum replaced him and led the Cleveland Indians to a 17-14 victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.

There have been updates about his injuries, which have included knee and foot ailments. Until last week, the Cleveland Browns had refrained from revealing much about the impact the shoulder injury has had on the performances of their quarterback. Andrew Berry stated that he was "healthy enough to win games for us" during Cleveland's bye week.


Dan Orlovsky breaks down how the team has fallen short of expectations.

Alex Van Pelt acknowledged last week that the passing mechanics of the quarterback have been "handcuffed" by the harness.

It's something that's hampered him. It's a struggle for him when he gets stuck in the left side of his body. Baker will be back to normal with his normal throwing mechanics next year. He has fought. We know he's injured, but we have a lot of respect for the fact that he has battled through that. I'll leave that there.

According to sources, the plan is for him to have surgery on his shoulder after the season and be back in time to participate in the summer workouts.

By that time, free agency will be over, the NFL draft will be over, and the chance to trade for another quarterback will be available.

They want Baker to be their leader. I believe that. "They have to be fair and responsible to everyone else in that building," Dan Orlovsky said in an interview. How much do the Cleveland organization think the shoulder injury affected his play? Only they know it. I think they'll probably go ahead and pick up the fifth-year option next year, and maybe bring in a third-round pick or something at quarterback, because if they believe that, that was such a big deal. If they think he didn't play well, then they have to bring in someone else.

I'm a Baker. They have to figure out how severe the injury was and how much it affected him.

The future.

Baker Mayfield is last among qualified quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. He has the highest off-target rate in the fourth quarter.

The shoulder injury was one of many challenges faced by the man.

Beckham's father posted a video on social media that said all the times the quarterback didn't throw Beckham's way or missed him, he was the one who was missed. The Beckhams trashed the Mayfield in the comments.

OBJ left Cleveland to join the Los Angeles Rams, while Mayfield was in Cleveland to answer questions about their divorce. One source said that the questions had been handled like a franchise quarterback. Veteran safety John Johnson III said later that week that the majority of the locker room would love to have Beckham back.

The split put a strain on the relationship between the two, with Beckham's friend and former LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry, being one of the most important players in the quarterback's game. In the past, he had told those close to him that he was one of the best teammates with whom he had ever played.

Since Beckham's departure, he has only spoken once, during his Thanksgiving charity event, when he noted that he "hasn't been able to get the ball so much, either."

In Cleveland's next game against the Detroit Lions, quarterback Baker Mayfield tried to find an open receiver in the first quarter. But he overthrew him, leading to the pick up. The fans of the Cleveland team booed the player in the second half. After Cleveland's 13-10) victory, the team's quarterback walked off the field and skipped his postgame press conference for the first time in his career.

"There have been a lot of firsts for me this year, but that comes with the territory of the position that I'm in," he said, when asked about all the unique drama he's had to deal with this season. I have to do the best I can. I have said that there's no manual on how to handle this, and there hasn't been.

There are possibilities.

The last time Baker Mayfield was in Pittsburgh, he celebrated a playoff win with a defensive end.

Multiple sources have told ESPN that the Browns have yet to engage the camp of Mayfield on contract extension talks, dating to when he first became extension eligible this past summer. Since the shoulder injury, there has been a lot of pressure on the season.

Unless the team trades some of their young stars in a trade, the team won't have the draft capital to land a big-name quarterback like Russell Wilson. Wilson would have to waive a no-trade clause in order for the Browns to sign him. If Cleveland pursued Jimmy Garoppolo, it would send a message to Baker that he's likely not in their long-term plans. Prompt him to ask for his own trade. While the Browns could find themselves in the hunt for the next Ryan Tannehill, they could also appeal as that very reclamation quarterback to another team. In last season's playoffs, he finished in the top 10 in QBR, then threw three touchdown in a road victory.

This time last year, it would have seemed crazy to have anyone else under center for the Browns in 2022. The most likely scenario is that he will be back as Cleveland's starter, but that is no longer a sure bet after a season of drama and disappointment.

The biggest victory in recent franchise history was celebrated a year ago in Pittsburgh by the Browns. It's fair to wonder what the future holds for Baker Mayfield as the Cleveland Browns return to Pittsburgh.