Somewhere along the way everyone has forgotten that Baker Mayfield is not, barring injury or transcendency, going to take meaningful snaps for the Cleveland Browns in 2018.
Coach Hue Jackson named veteran signal-caller Tyrod Taylor the team’s starting quarterback even before it drafted Mayfield with the No. 1 pick.
“If that the decision we make as an organization to take a quarterback at No. 1, then we will, but Tyrod is the starting quarterback,” Jackson said on March 15. “That is not going to change that.”
Taylor, who was acquired for a third-rounder before that draft, has started for three seasons, played the position at a high level, and has tasted the postseason. He’s a guy who’s not going to be learning on the job. The only growing pains we’ll see will come early as he adjusts to his new offense, and then ultimately displayed by his limitations.
As a result, there’s a certain calming certainty about the idea of Taylor leading the Browns into a new season. But that hasn’t stopped the swarming hives of prognosticators and hype men that are waiting to see the 23-year-old rookie.
Despite clear indications out of Berea that Mayfield will not play in 2018, betting odds at OddsShark have him listed with the second-best chance to win the rookie of the year award. It seems like everyone is driving the hype machine, and no one is paying attention to thesis. ESPN also continues to drive Mayfield’s coverage, as 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman pointed out.
"Tyrod Taylor is the starter in Cleveland, that's clear. But when it comes to coverage on this show, Baker Mayfield gets all the reps." - Neil Everett, SportsCenter.— Ken Carman (@KenCarman) June 14, 2018
We get it. Mayfield is a first-overall pick and former Heisman Trophy winner. He won a lot of games in college, and completed a ton of passes. He’s a persona, he’s an attraction, but most of all he’s the future. He knows it. You know it. Taylor knows it. But this is not his team, not yet, and anyone that thought it would be, especially after a few months and a couple organized team practices, is missing the point.
Dan Labbe at Cleveland.com reported Mayfield did not even look “ready to compete” or to push Taylor for the starting job, from what he has seen so far. Labbe didn’t mean it as a scathing indictment of Mayfield’s progress, or lack thereof, and he didn’t mean it to say Mayfield isn’t going to get there.
There’s no pressure on him to be even near that stage yet, and not many guys are after a dozen practices! He’s not even competing with Taylor, he’s competing against himself, because the Browns are taking a long-view approach. This time, we’re told, is different.
The Browns, whether you agree or not, are going to cultivate Mayfield’s skills and allow him to hone them before pushing him onto an NFL field. Hanging onto every single incompletion by Taylor, or bad judgment, then clamoring for Mayfield is not a healthy approach, and not one the Browns are going to take.
Is it correct? Mayfield will be 24 next summer, so there is an idea that he should be developing on the field as he was touted as one of the most “NFL ready” quarterbacks in the 2018 draft class. But there’s two competing trains of thought, both with valid points about when’s the right time to play a quarterback. Both have their merits, and both can be correct. Players get better by playing, but they also get better with coaching and time.
Will Mayfield benefit or be hindered by falling in line behind Taylor and rolling with his new team’s plan? Will it eat him alive that he couldn’t earn the job in his first NFL offseason? The answer to those questions is probably no. Although he’s a competitor, Mayfield gets it. He has been a walk-on, a backup, and second-guessed his entire football career. He’s not weak-minded and won’t crumble in the face of near-term adversity, he’s going to thrive from it.
Does it make him a failure if he doesn’t earn the job over Taylor, a veteran quarterback, and he serves as a backup in his rookie season? Not at all, and like before, if you think that you’re missing the point.