The Cleveland Browns, who are already in a tough situation eight games into the season, could have seen their season completely go off the rails on Wednesday.
But it didn’t, thanks in large part to quarterback Baker Mayfield.
A day after the Browns stood pat at the NFL’s trading deadline while watching the social media shenanigans surrounding wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the players and coaches returned to Berea to start practicing for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Well, everyone except Beckham, who was told that he did not need to bother coming to work.
I'm told #Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. has been told he's excused from practice today, per league source. Additionally, it is my understanding that OBJ was ready to attend practice per usual.— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) November 3, 2021
Head coach Kevin Stefanski was very diplomatic when asked about the situation during his media appearance prior to practice (quotes via a team-provided transcript):
“Odell (Beckham Jr.) will not be out there. He has been excused. (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew Berry and his representatives are continuing to talk. For today, Odell will not be out there. “For me, it is probably best if I just stay on Wednesday and know that he is excused today. We will deal with everything else as it comes.”
The fact that Stefanski revealed that Berry was in talks today with Beckham’s representatives led to rumors and reports that Beckham has played his last game with the Browns. While that has not yet been confirmed, it is not hard to imagine that was the primary focus of the discussion.
Following practice, it was Mayfield’s turn to meet with the media. It would have been easy for Mayfield - who was at the center of Tuesday’s social media diatribe - to skip out on talking to the media. He could have easily cited having to get extra medical attention on his ailing left shoulder, or a desire to put in extra film work on the Bengals. He could have even expressed his views through a well-orchestrated social media post.
Mayfield did none of that, however. Rather, he did what a starting quarterback and team leader does in a situation like this, as he addressed the matter in a professional way that looked to pull the team together rather than rip it apart (quotes via a team-provided transcript):
“I would take anything to have a winning team right now. Our focus needs to be on winning. Anything like this and stuff that is created on the outside drama-wise takes away from the focus and attention to detail that we need to have, which is exactly the reasons why we have not been able to win. We have not executed well enough to be able to do that. I think a lot of this is frustration and tension that has built up because we are not playing how we should be, and we want to be better. We want to be better than .500, but that is where we are at right now. It is time to look in the mirror and handle those things internally because nothing on the outside is going to help us. It is only going not create drama, and that is just a fact.
“I think this is definitely different than a normal sports media circumstance. It comes down to realizing our priorities. Our job is to go out there and do anything we can to win. We have to be focused because Cincinnati is playing well right now. It comes down to knowing where your heart is and knowing your teammates extremely well, and that is something I take an extreme amount of pride in, and I truly care about each one of our guys. It is about that, and it is about me going out there and being able to do my job this week, focus on the week of practice, see what happens and then go out there on Sunday and execute.
“I am prepared to do whatever. If (OBJ) is back, then we will work through it and do whatever it takes. I can put my ego and pride to the side to win because that is all I care about is winning. If not, then we will roll with the guys we have out there, and those guys will know that I completely trust them and they will know that I am always here for them. That is the leader and that is the quarterback I am.”
The Browns were in a somewhat similar situation at this point last season as they were coming off a frustrating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers where Beckham pouted on the sidelines only to follow that up with a road win against the Bengals that jumpstarted the team’s run to the playoffs.
Things have been ratcheted up considerably this year given the events that occurred on Tuesday, but the Browns once again find themselves coming off a loss to the Steelers and facing a road trip to Cincinnati.
The result this Sunday may not be the one the Browns want as it is possible that the issues plaguing the team this season go beyond just one player.
But if the Browns can pull together and find a way to win on Sunday, that could be the start of another playoff run.
And if that happens, people will point to today and the way that Mayfield handled a potentially problematic situation as one of the turning points in the season.