OK, here’s where this one starts:
Mary Kay Cabot @MaryKayCabot#Browns Baker Mayfield must resolve his differences with Kevin Stefanski soon in case they need to co-exist next season; Also, some names that will be on the radar if they don't https://t.co/waNKPGtnJV
Yes, Baker Mayfield is angry. When I first saw this — and, let me reiterate, I first saw this only after Baker pointed it out — I was pretty surprised. I know Mary Kay, have known her for many years, and whatever anyone might think of her work, she is most certainly not someone who “puts words” in anybody’s mouth. I’ve always respected her very much as someone who does the work.
So, I jumped to the story to see what terrible things Mary Kay had Baker Mayfield saying.
Almost all of it is public stuff — things that Mayfield said in press conferences, stuff that Kevin Stefanski said in press conferences, etc. So what is new here?
It seems to come down to this, coming from unnamed sources:
— Baker Mayfield is frustrated because he did not feel like Stefanski’s play-calling put him in “position to succeed or play to his strengths.”
— At times, Mayfield would have preferred offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt call the plays.
— Mayfield really wanted Stefanski to call more play-action bootlegs.
— Um, that seems to be it.
I’m not going to lie: That’s a disappointing batch of nothing. It’s disappointing because it is under a really long and uninspiring headline that says “Browns QB Baker Mayfield must resolve his differences with Kevin Stefanski in the event they need to co-exist next season.”
And it’s disappointing because Baker tweeted out some holy rage suggesting that Mary Kay had him saying some really controversial stuff like, “I don’t get the hype behind ‘Ted Lasso’,” or, “Dog food is actually delicious,” or “I don’t actually live at Progressive Field.”
And, finally, it’s disappointing because OF COURSE Mayfield thinks those things; I’d be really worried about him if he didn’t. Mayfield’s a smart guy. If he were walking around during this exasperating and infuriating season telling everybody, “I really like the way Kevin Stefanski is calling the plays,” or “I’m so glad they’re not giving me those play-action bootlegs that I am really good at,” THAT is when I’d be worried.
And shoot, I want Alex Van Pelt to call the plays too. All the way back when Stefanski was hired, I wrote about the dangers of an NFL head coach calling the plays and pleaded with him to give the job to someone else. Yes, it has worked for a handful of coaches, but mostly it’s a trap. Your attention is divided. You don’t focus enough on team-building. You send out a message that you care more about one unit than another. It worked all right in Year 1 for Stefanski because things were lined up well. But it has been a real problem in Year 2, and everybody can see it.
So, as angry as Mayfield might be — or at least pretend to be — come on, you know and I know and everybody knows he believes those things.
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What I think that story shows — mostly through a catalog of public information — is that this team (and, more specifically, this offense) is in a really bad place. Odell Beckham is gone and scoring touchdowns for another team. Jarvis Landry isn’t talking to reporters and seems to be really unhappy. Tight end Austin Hooper is having a pretty dreadful season rather than fulfilling his role as Mayfield’s security blanket. Stefanski himself seems to have lost the plot.
It’s a good thing that Nick Chubb is the ultimate team player because the way the Browns have used him all season makes zero sense — but he does not complain.
And, finally, Mayfield has had the sort of soul-crushing season that leaves everyone wondering about the future. There’s no point in trying to identify a reason for Mayfield’s demise because I’m sure it’s all the reasons. He’s badly hurt. Play-calling has been suspect. The offensive line has been beat up. His confidence has wavered. One thing has piled on another, and we’ve seen it with the Cleveland Browns all our lives — once things start going bad, they keep going bad.
I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that what Mary Kay Cabot wrote is substantially true. I don’t know that there’s any appetite on the part of the Browns or on the part of Baker Mayfield to keep this relationship going. But I do know that if they DO try to keep it going, the air will need to be cleared, relationships will have to repaired, course corrections will have to be made. I mean, that couldn’t be more obvious.
The Browns will play a meaningless game against the Bengals on Sunday, and Mayfield won’t play in it. And so there is a growing sense that we have seen Baker Mayfield in a Browns uniform for the last time. This is hardly the time to write an obituary of his Cleveland career — who knows, he might still be the Browns’ quarterback next year — but as this is a fan’s diary I should say that I’m quite sad about how all this has played out. As fans, we invest our emotions in coaches and players. Some surpass our most ambitious hopes. And some disappoint us. Some stay on the periphery; we watch them play but never really develop powerful feelings about them. And some get inside our hearts.
I have loved watching Baker Mayfield play for the Browns. He has been good and bad, exhilarating and infuriating, hugely promising and profoundly disappointing. But through it all, more than anything, he has been fascinating. And, in so many ways, that’s what this whole thing is about, right? The Browns have been a fiasco throughout this century, not only on the field but off it too. They have had 12 different coaches and 15 different leading passers and countless doomed plans.
They actually had a winless season and then KEPT THE COACH, which still boggles the mind.
And it was after that winless season that they made the big bet on Baker Mayfield, an undersized quarterback with a big heart and a knack for making funny commercials.
And, whatever else might be said, Mayfield made the Browns matter in the NFL, and that’s something. He made the team compelling to watch, and that’s something. He led the new Browns to their only playoff victory, and that’s more than just something. I’ve probably reached the same conclusion most others have reached — that for any number of reasons Mayfield is not the guy to take the Browns to the Super Bowl.
But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been fun. Yes, as Mayfield rage-tweets, he is not your puppet. But he has been entertaining.