The Cleveland Browns just made one of this offseason’s biggest moves so far.
Amari Cooper will head to Cleveland to bolster the Browns’ receiver corps, and quarterback Baker Mayfield is running out of excuses for any possible underperformance in 2022.
One of the biggest storylines in the NFL last year surrounded the Browns and their passing game. Odell Beckham Jr. had been around for a couple of years, but he wasn’t putting up the same numbers he had with the Giants. In fact, his production had taken a nosedive since pairing up with former college teammate Jarvis Landry in Cleveland’s wide receiver room. In his first year with the Browns, his receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns hit career-lows (excluding his four-game season in 2017), and they only continued to decline.
The answer to who deserved the blame for that decline varied, but Beckham’s father made it clear that he believed the Browns’ quarterback was the problem. The immediate impact the receiver made when he went to Los Angeles didn’t exactly paint Mayfield in a better light, nor did the Browns’ slide to an 8-9 finish last season. Ending the 2021 season in disappointment after such a strong 2020 left the Browns unsure of how to handle their future at quarterback.
On one hand, Mayfield represents the end to the seemingly everlasting revolving door of quarterbacks in Cleveland. He’s been the most successful quarterback the franchise has stuck under center since 1999. Mayfield’s 29-30 record makes him the seventh-winningest quarterback in franchise history, his 14,125 passing yards are the fourth-most in Browns history, and his 92 passing touchdowns are fifth-most. Cleveland may be wary to place the blame of another lackluster season on the one quarterback in recent years decades that hasn’t failed them.
On the other hand, the former first overall pick is running out of excuses for poor performances. Maybe he really did just have poor chemistry with Beckham. Maybe the partially torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder really was affecting his ability to throw. But Mayfield’s poor play in 2021 was a big reason the Browns weren’t successful in making another playoff run, especially considering how good Cleveland’s run game was last season.
The quarterback missed three games with his shoulder injury and aggravation and set career lows in touchdowns (17) and passing yards (3,010). Mayfield’s accuracy was another issue, as part of the reason he had trouble connecting with Beckham was his tendency to overthrow or underthrow his receivers. To top it all off, he was especially bad in crunch time in 2021, as he had the lowest fourth-quarter completion rate of qualifying quarterbacks and didn’t record a single fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive last season.
Still, the Browns are continuing to build around him, with their big trade for Cooper the headline of their offseason thus far. That’s Cleveland’s best bet to get a definitive answer on their quarterback.
Adding Cooper to a WR room that may or may not still include Landry is a message to Mayfield that the team wants him to prove himself. The Browns have a strong run game with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D’Ernest Johnson in the backfield. They also cut ties with Beckham, with whom Mayfield had trouble forming chemistry. They’ve put a strong offensive line in front of him. Mayfield has gotten surgery to repair his torn labrum. Now, he’s got another top-tier receiver joining the fray in Cooper.
Cleveland didn’t have a single receiver with more than 600 yards of offense in 2021. Their leader in receiving touchdowns was tight end David Njoku, who had four. In the six games the Browns got out of Beckham this year, he had just 232 yards and 0 touchdowns.
Obviously, the last time the Browns made a big trade for a receiver, it didn’t work out, but they’re hoping for a better outcome with Cooper. The former Cowboy had yet another productive season in Dallas, matching his career-high with eight touchdowns. While he didn’t quite achieve a fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season, that can be partly attributed to missing two games as well as having to share targets with rising star CeeDee Lamb.
With Beckham gone and Landry possibly on his way out, Cooper likely won’t be giving up too many targets. As a result, he should thrive as the Browns’ unquestionable WR1 in 2022.
The Browns have now addressed just about every excuse Mayfield may have had for a rough 2021 season. With all of the pieces around him—as well as a repaired and recovered shoulder by next season—the onus is 100% on the fifth-year quarterback to find success in 2022.
If Mayfield truly overcomes any past excuses and puts together another season as successful as his 2020 campaign, it’s a win for both him and the Browns. He’ll get a major payday to stay in Cleveland and the team won’t have to worry about finding another successful quarterback. But if he doesn’t, even with everything going right around him, Mayfield might be looking for a new home at season’s end.
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 29, 2023