The 2021 season did not go as planned for the Cleveland Browns or quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The Browns will close out the year on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, but Mayfield will not be under center. Head coach Kevin Stefanski announced on Tuesday that Mayfield, who was placed on injured reserve, will focus on scheduling surgery for his torn left labrum and beginning what is expected to be a four-to-six-month recovery period.
The injury to Mayfield’s non-throwing shoulder, along with a broken bone in the same shoulder, and injuries to his left heel, right knee and groin help explain - if not excuse - the down year from Mayfield. Despite the injuries and the limitations of having to wear a harness on his shoulder, Mayfield only missed one game with the injury and another game while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
On Wednesday, backup quarterback Case Keenum, who will get the start against the Bengals, shared his perspective on Mayfield’s ability to make it onto the field each week, calling the process “a small miracle” most weeks (quotes via a team-provided transcript):
“He is tough. I have watched him get hit a little bit closer than probably most people – maybe his wife and his mom, and then me; I might be third just to see how carefully he gets up, but yeah is tough. There were some weeks just to get him to the field was a small miracle.
“I did have a front-row seat to one of the gutsiest, toughest performances of a quarterback playing in a season that I have ever seen, culminating in the other night and how he battled his tail off to really bring us back into that game and keep us in it. I think his entire season he was battling a lot of things. He is one of the toughest guys I know, and he is a fighter. He came to fight every single day and pushed through a lot of adversity just to get on the field on Sundays. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and it grew.”
For the season, Mayfield finishes with a completion percentage of 60.5 percent (second-lowest of his four-year career), 3,010 passing yards (obviously the lowest of his career), 17 touchdown passes (the first time he has not broken 20 in his career), 13 interceptions (second-fewest in his career) and a quarterback rating of 83.1 (second-lowest of his career).
With the season coming to a close on Sunday, the lasting image for many will be Mayfield taking nine sacks in Monday’s night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And with no more games to play, the offseason discussion will focus on whether or not the Browns will stick with Mayfield as the starting quarterback.
If Mayfield had played this season healthy and put up the same numbers, then the Browns could probably make a case that it was time to move on. But his injuries need to be part of the discussion, as does the fact that he has a guaranteed $18.85 million contract for the upcoming season thanks to the Browns picking up his fifth-year option. So the idea of trading him or releasing him is probably not very realistic.
Rather, it seems more prudent to let a doctor fix Mayfield’s shoulder, then let Mayfield fix himself mentally so that he can come back and show that this season was an exception, rather than the norm, of the type of quarterback he really is.