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Browns Believe in Baker Mayfield Even if You Don't

Despite continued insistence from the media and others, sometimes looking out for the quarterback's health, the Cleveland Browns believe Baker Mayfield is the best option to win games this year even if no one else does.

Why is it so difficult to accept that the Cleveland Browns are doing everything in their power to win and that quarterback Baker Mayfield is their best path to accomplish it?

Regardless of how unlikely the Browns chances are to make the playoffs at this point, they are going to fight to the bitter end. And for reasons that are increasingly difficult to understand, there are elements that seem to be unhappy with the Browns for going this route.

Time and time again, head coach Kevin Stefanski does not hesitate in saying that Mayfield is the quarterback of this team, that he gives the Browns the best chance to win. Stefanski has also said he has never considered benching Mayfield, even against the Detroit Lions where his health rendered him almost totally ineffective.

After the 16-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Stefanski was asked by Tony Grossi of ESPN 850 if a quarterback change was a possibility. After Stefanski responded no, Grossi followed up asking why not, prompting the following exchange.

"Let me ask YOU a question. Why would we do that?" 

Grossi oversimplified the situation, saying "Well, the points just aren't there," to which an exasperated Stefanski interjected, "Yea, it's not, that's - we're not doing that, Tony."

The suggestion from some is that Stefanski is not allowed to play Case Keenum, as if someone is forcing him to play Mayfield. Somehow the specter of an invasive owner would be a more comforting outcome.

As an aside, why would ownership force the Browns to play Mayfield while injured? He's an investment. If anything, they would be more inclined to shut him down to protect that investment and better their chances the following season.

The notion that the Browns have been shoving Mayfield out there despite multiple injuries to evaluate him for a possible contract extension is equally ridiculous. Outside of his tolerance for pain and his willingness to fight through almost anything for his teammates in an effort to win, there's very little to gain. It's absurd to try to make a meaningful evaluation under these circumstances, especially when the question in front of them is whether to bet over $100 million as well as an important window of time on them.

Mayfield is getting healthier as evidenced by the game against the Ravens where he did enough to win. Stefanski believes Mayfield will be the healthiest he has been since week two of the season coming out of the bye week so there may be more value in evaluation at this point. Everything points to Mayfield being the quarterback of the Browns in 2022, which is when they will have to make a decision on giving him a contract extension if they haven't already decided they plan to extend him and it's more about details of the contract.

Short of a major injury, Mayfield can really only help himself in the games remaining this season. If by some miracle, he were to regain the form he showed at the end of last year, he only enhances his case to be the team's long term quarterback.

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Given the toughness he's shown and just how hard he's worked, the Browns seem far higher on Mayfield than the public is or would like them to be. Nowhere is that more evident than in the locker room where there's been a trend of players being asked to weigh in with their thoughts on Mayfield and the responses show a certain reverence for their signal caller.

Invariably, critics will push back and say that's exactly what his teammates are going to say put on the spot, but the answers being given go far beyond lip service. The through line with all of their responses shows just how hard Mayfield is working just to get onto the practice field, let alone games.

Here's a sample.

"Great competitor, man. Just as good as any quarterback in the league. He's improving and as time goes on, you guys will just how great of a quarterback he is." - LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

"I appreciate the effort he puts in, the time he puts in, the time he puts in the training room just to get out there on the practice field or in the games is a lot, so gotta respect it. - LB Malcolm Smith

"We watch how he practices. You know, he wants to be perfect. That comes with anybody - A lot of guys on our team, we get frustrated when we don't have the success we had, but we have the utmost confidence, like I said, we see each and every day at practice. He's competing, battling, injuries or not, so on Sunday, we know he's going to give it his best shot and that's all we can ask for, put us in a position to win." - S John Johnson III

"It motivates us. We are playing for each other. To see him battling, he is banged up pretty bad. He is out there at practice and during the game, it gets us going. We want to win for each other.” - RB Nick Chubb

"The guy is tough and plays hard. He wants to win badly, and he is our leader. We follow that, and we have to keep protecting him and keep him upright so we can have him down the stretch.” - G Joel Bitonio

Should the Browns fail to make the playoffs, they will likely keep fighting for the rest of the year as if they were. That's not just the quarterback, but the entire team. As much as it might be prudent for the Browns to shut Mayfield down at that point so he can have the shoulder surgery earlier and be readier for next year faster, there are other players that would benefit from that as well and Stefanski doesn't appear to have any interest in playing favorites.

It's about using this season to continue to instill who this team is both this season and going forward, which is much easier to do when everything is going well. They can get better as well, which could carry over into next year, especially on defense. With a season that is almost certainly going to end in massive disappointment, it's a more difficult test to stay true to their vision, though I'd argue more important.

The motives of the Browns and Stefanski don't really need to be more complicated than trying to win games.

READ MORE: 5 Biggest Reasons Browns Offense has Failed in 2021