Browns GM Andrew Berry 'fully' expects Baker Mayfield to be the team's starting quarterback in 2022 and have a bounce-back year. But he won't commit to longer than next season. (Cleveland Browns)
Andrew Berry expects Baker Mayfield back as starter in 2022, but won’t commit beyond that
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Are the Browns heading toward a breakup with quarterback Baker Mayfield or a new commitment to life happily ever after?
They appear smack dab in the middle of a relationship that got rocky through the 2021 season but certainly was not untenable.
“We fully expect Baker to be our starter and bounce back,” GM Andrew Berry said in his season post-mortem Zoom conference.
“Generally speaking, we are looking forward to Baker obviously getting healthy in the offseason and then putting good work into the spring and with his coaches for having the type of season we know he can have moving forward.”
Mayfield retreated to Austin, TX, for some R&R without engaging in a season-ending exit interview with media. His final season meeting with Stefanski was Friday. Mayfield has surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum scheduled for Jan. 19 in Los Angeles.
The injury clouds a fair evaluation of Mayfield’s worst season in four years with the Browns. In 14 games, he had career lows in completions (253), passing yards (3,010) and touchdown passes (13), and suffered a career-high 43 sacks despite an offensive line that graded out as one of the league’s best pass-blocking units, according to analytics Websites.
The best anyone could say was Mayfield displayed toughness in playing through the shoulder and other injuries – until he had enough after a nine-sack game in Pittsburgh and opted out of the season finale.
A week after the original injury in Game 2, Mayfield’s job was made tougher by the return of popular receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from 2020 knee surgery.
The reunion of the two alpha males was supposed to take the Browns’ offense to a higher level. Instead, the chemistry so lacking in their previous 24 games together worsened. The relationship between Beckham and Mayfield exploded in a messy divorce, which splintered the locker room.
Beckham was granted his wish to be released on Nov. 5. The fallout on Mayfield caused him to deal with “a lot of internal things,” he said in an interview with NFL Network’s Kurt Warner.
Unlike last year, however, Mayfield’s performance did not improve with Beckham not on the field – except for one shining day in a 41-16 win in Cincinnati. Things degenerated from there and ended with the Browns blowing games on offense, costing them the AFC North division title, and Mayfield questioning coach Kevin Stefanski’s offensive scheme and play-calls.
Adding to Mayfield’s stress throughout the year was the lack of a contract extension from the Browns. The deafening silence from Berry’s office seemed to affect his game, too.
The Browns committed last spring to Mayfield’s fifth-year option in 2022 at a guaranteed salary of $18.8 million. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, only two quarterbacks have entered their option years without an extension and both players – Marcus Mariota of Tennessee and Jameis Winston of Tampa Bay – left their clubs after their fifth year.
Berry is content to proceed without an extension.
“We have a lot of guys who will have gone into their final [contract] year, or something along those lines,” Berry said. “That is not something that really goes into the calculus for us. Every year, you will have guys on expiring deals. That is not something that is really top of mind for me.”
Not surprisingly, Berry wouldn’t say whether the Browns would explore upgrading the position – or acquire competition at quarterback -- through trade, free agency or the draft.
“I know there is a ton of speculation out there,” he said. “I am not really going to get into that. I think I have been fairly straightforward here on this.”
Mayfield’s surgery has an expected rehab timetable of four months. It’s possible the Browns could add a quarterback by then, or stay pat and welcome him back for a “prove-it” year.
“I think the reality of it is any of us who work in the NFL, every year is a prove-it year,” Berry said. “To the contract question in general, I think you guys probably know me well enough that I kind of march to the beat of my own drum in terms of whatever contract precedents are out there so we will deal with each situation on an individual basis.”
Berry’s purposely vague comments are always open to interpretation. They may have quieted noise about Mayfield’s immediate future with the Browns, but they certainly did not put the story to bed.
Jarvis Landry completed his fourth season with the Browns without having a media session since his good friend Beckham was released. Although Landry finished with his second-best game of the season – 6 catches for 75 yards and one touchdown – his future is questionable at best.
Landry has another year left on his contract at a team-high salary of $14.3 million with no guarantees. His salary cap number of $16.553 million also is the highest on the team but he would only count $1.5 million if cut or traded.
Asked about Landry’s future, Berry preferred to talk about his past.
“I think everybody on this call knows how much respect we have for Jarvis Landry and really what he has meant for our team and organization over the past several years,” Berry said. “He has been a productive player for us really since the day that we traded for him, and he has been really a key piece in terms of how the team and organization has evolved over the last several years.”