CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Baker Mayfield came a long way in a short amount of time this season.
So did the Cleveland Browns.
Mayfield has the organization, and teammates believing bigger things are to come following an historic season that saw the Browns finish with their best record and first playoff victory for the franchise since 1994.
More than the success of this past season to build upon, Mayfield will go into 2021 with something he’s yet to have in his young career – continuity.
“I can tell you he is very excited not to learn a new offense,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. “That is a huge part of this is we can start at that baseline and we can start that foundation and build on what we have done to date.”
Mayfield isn’t the only one excited. So is running back Nick Chubb.
“That is huge for sure,” Chubb said. “I have not even thought about that, but that is the first time going into an offseason since I have been here not having to relearn an offense. It is probably even better for Baker because he is the quarterback. That is big. I think we can just hone down on what we have been doing, what we have going and just master it and just take a look at everything.”
Although Stefanski won’t specifically use the words ‘franchise quarterback’ when asked about Mayfield, he really doesn’t have to.
“Baker continued to get better all season,” Stefanski said. “He did the things we asked him to do. He definitely led this football team from Day 1 until now. I would still tell you that these things tend to figure themselves out. We have a bunch of ball games to look at with him and find out ways that he can get better, but in terms of the ‘franchise quarterback’ thing, I do not even know necessarily what that means.”
What is clear is that the Browns have their long sought-after coach and quarterback combination.
“I believe so,” center JC Tretter said. “I think what Kevin has done coming in as a first-year head coach in a year unlike any other, not having time to be in the building with the team and still shaping the culture and shaping the team the way he has, it is just a ton of credit to him. I think Baker showed this entire year the type of player and leader he is, and that is what you need out of the quarterback room.”
“This system he has brought in, it speaks for itself,” Chubb said. “There are ways for everyone to have success on our side of the ball. Not only that, it is a really good offense. Baker, he is our guy. He is our quarterback. He has proved that since he has been here. If he can only get better, the future is definitely bright for us.”
Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt deserve much of the credit for his progression throughout the year.
From Tretter’s perspective, Mayfield is just getting started.
“He continues to grow as a player, as a person and as a leader, and that is what you need,” Tretter said. “Baker, I think his growth is not yet done. He is not a finished product and I think he would be the first one to tell you that, but you continue to see him get better and better each and every year.”
Stefanski praised Mayfield for learning the intricacies of his offense under difficult circumstances while eliminating costly turnovers.
“Once he started getting comfortable with what we were doing and once I was using more concepts that he was comfortable with, which is a big part of this, he really started playing at a high level,” Stefanski said. “I am proud of the progress he made, but if I had to say one thing, I would say just taking care of that football.”
The contrast between the first 8 games of the season and the last 8 in the regular season is stark.
Mayfield’s completion percentage rose from 61.4% in the first half to 63.9% over the second half. He threw for 535 more yards over the final 8 games and his touchdown to interception ratio jumped from 15 touchdowns and 7 interceptions to 11 TDs and 1 pick down the stretch.
“The next step for Baker, I would characterize it as the next step for all of us – continue to get better,” Stefanski said. “You saw growth from him as a player from the first game to the last. Really pleased with his progress, and I think he recognizes that he has room to grow like we all do. It is just having that mindset that he is going to constantly improve.”