Three seasons with mixed results and just a shred of consistency is not a recipe for a massive contract extension. Simply put, the Cleveland Browns are the wiser franchise for waiting to pay their franchise quarterback.
The Buffalo Bills came to an agreement with their quarterback Josh Allen on a new contract. The Browns have yet to get in serious negotiations with Baker Mayfield, making the correct decision to wait it out.
As the 2018 NFL Draft crop of quarterbacks has had its ups and downs, nobody has been a better poster child of the roller coaster than Mayfield. He is not on the verge of running out of chances as Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are, but he has also not seen the All-Pro heights of that of Allen and Lamar Jackson.
Mayfield started out on fire, finishing just behind running back Saquon Barkley in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Despite a whirlwind of change with his coaching staff, with the firing of both his head coach and offensive coordinator, Mayfield finished the season with 27 touchdown passes to only 14 interceptions in 14 games. He completed 64 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,725 yards.
According to Football Outsiders, Mayfield finished his rookie campaign with a DVOA of 8.1 percent. This ranked him tied for 12th in the league in that metric. He finished with an overall PFF grade of 83.2 as well. Analytically speaking, Mayfield posted numbers that showed undeniable promise for the future.
Then the infamous Freddie Kitchens year arrived. Analytically, Mayfield still posted a good PFF grade of 74.4 in 2019, but his DVOA dropped a massive 17.9 percent all the way down to -9.1 percent. On the year, Mayfield finished with 3,827 yards passing and 22 touchdowns, but his interception number jumped to 21, with his completion percentage taking a dip down to 59.4%.
Kitchens exits and Kevin Stefanski enters as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. With the change at head coach came a change in offensive systems, leading to more of the same in terms of struggles for Mayfield early last season.
Through those six games, Mayfield took 11 sacks (an indication of a failure to operate timely within structure), throwing six interceptions and completing 60 percent of his passes. According to my charting and Weighted On-Target Percentage, Mayfield’s first eight games resulted in a total of 50.3 percent. This is the lowest I have charted thus far over an eight-game span. This includes the likes of Drew Lock and Ben Roethlisberger down the stretch.
There is no other way to put it: Mayfield played as a bottom-three quarterback in the league to start the season. He gave plenty of reason to panic. However, Week 7 rolled around and the new system seemed to click for Mayfield.
The rest of the season, Mayfield threw just two more picks, tossing 16 extra touchdown passes. He finished the season a year ago with nearly 3,600 yards while completing nearly 63 percent of his passes as well. Down the stretch, in fact, only one quarterback has scored a higher Weighted On-Target Percentage than Mayfield over the back eight games of the season. That player was the Most Valuable Player himself in Aaron Rodgers.
Significantly weighed down by the tumultuous start to the season in 2020, Mayfield finished with a total DVOA of 5.1 percent. This ranked him as the 17th overall quarterback in that regard. His PFF grade, however, hit the excellent mark of 81.6.
A hot start, a rough sophomore season, and a consistent third year. Putting on the shoes of general manager Andrew Berry, there is plenty of reason for hesitancy in shoveling out an Allen-like deal at this point. Sure, Allen faced his struggles over his first two years as well, but he at least has an All-Pro to his name.
Should the Buffalo Bills have waited a year to pay Allen? Probably, but that is beside the point. The point is that the Browns have a front office that is willing to bet on Mayfield and willing to pay up if they have to end up paying a bit more as a result.
This is good news for Mayfield as well! Should Mayfield continue to play at the level he did over the backstretch of the season, then the Browns pony up without a second thought. For Mayfield, he will be looking at a larger market as well.
Not only did Allen just sign a deal worth $43 million average per year with $150 million guaranteed, but there is still another quarterback or two set to be paid as well that could continue to push the market higher in Lamar Jackson and potentially Kyler Murray if the Mayfield deal draws out much further than anticipated.
This is good news for the Browns as well! Should Mayfield continue to struggle with consistency, then they still have his fifth year to evaluate and hope for improvement. They can also still hope Mayfield continues to climb out of the grave Kitchens buried him in without owing him $150 million in guaranteed money.
Outside of increasing the market for quarterbacks, the Allen deal has little bearing on the Mayfield deal. If Mayfield balls out again in 2021, then he will be a very rich man. If he does not, then the Browns may be back to square one, but a least they can do so without landing themselves in a pit of owed money.
Here is to hoping it is the former for Mayfield and the Browns and not the latter.