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Baker Mayfield's Most Demanding Chapter Lies Ahead

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield underwent successful shoulder surgery in Los Angeles, meaning that he officially enters the most demanding part of his NFL life.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has had an unconventional NFL life to this point; three head coaches, three offensive coordinators, and difficult early organizational life. However, he is just now entering the most difficult chapter of his story.

Mayfield suffered a torn labrum in week two against the Houston Texans and broke his humerus against the Arizona Cardinals later in the year. He also reportedly dealt with foot and heel issues throughout the year.

His injuries and performance have been the main talking point for Cleveland fans over the past few months. Mayfield's play during the latter half of the 2021 season was inexcusable, but he still has time to correct and set things back on track.

One year ago, Mayfield had the team within one drive of the AFC Championship Game. Last offseason, they were talking about a potential contract extension, but since then, things have soured.

Cleveland has to correct several things around Mayfield this offseason as part of the equation. They likely will select a wide receiver in the first round of the draft and will be in the free-agent market to add speed to the offense.

These changes should drastically alter the ceiling of this offense. Mayfield has had to play in the red zone for most of his career; they haven't had consistent speed on the field at all times, which other NFL teams have prioritized.

They were able to capture this briefly during Mayfield's rookie season. He formed an impromptu connection with journeyman receiver Breshad Perriman, developed a consistent rapport with wideout Rashard Higgins, and frequently targeted his tight ends downfield.

Over the last seven games of the 2018 season, the Browns went 5-2 and scored an average of twenty-four points per game. While those aren't staggering numbers, the way they found those points was much more consistent than the 2021 Browns.

Mayfield threw for 250+ yards four times over that stretch, including two 397-yard games. The team could never re-capture that level of speed and was forced to operate in crowded boxes for the past three seasons.

That should change this offseason. General manager Andrew Berry transformed both the offensive line and secondary during his first two offseasons with the team, which should leave little doubt that they will be aggressive in finding improvements in the passing game.

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While the team will spend the offseason finding help for Mayfield, he will spend it rehabbing from the worst injury of his career. Reports indicate that he will begin physical therapy next week, starting his long journey.

That won't be the end of his troubles. Mayfield's shoulder played a factor in his poor performance, but his mistakes extended beyond having a busted shoulder. He routinely struggled with simple footwork and had trouble processing the game.

His final game of the season against Pittsburgh serves as a perfect example. The Browns allowed nine sacks in that contest, and many of them came directly from Mayfield's poor decisions.

Cleveland ran "60" protection, which means your tackles must take away the inside gap, cutting off the direct alley to the quarterback. The protection is designed to eventually break down, as the edge rushers can bounce outside and bend their way to the quarterback.

Rookie tackle James Hudson was left on an island against edge rusher TJ Watt and did what he was asked. However, Mayfield held onto the ball, spun into unnecessary pressure, and hurt the offense.

He also must religiously work on his footwork over the offseason to make sure his body is in the correct spot at the correct time with the correct alignment. Some suggest hiring a private quarterback coach, which is a path.

Mayfield has previously stated that he doesn't need one, and as long as he understands what will be asked of him, that is a fine path. The bottom line is that he has to make a noticeable improvement; otherwise, the offense will continue to struggle.

The frustrating part of their struggles was that Mayfield has shown he can be exceptionally accurate. At his best, Mayfield makes the routine things simple, almost going on auto-pilot. He can also extend plays outside of the pocket and fits balls into tight windows that few others can.

If the Browns can get that out of Mayfield, they immediately become one of the most potent attacks in football. Barring unforeseen trade developments, he is their best path moving forward, which isn't necessarily negative.

His struggles with adversity have been well documented. Mayfield deals with critics on a daily basis, overcame impossible obstacles to win a Heisman Trophy, and helped put one of the least successful franchises in professional sports back on the map.

However, this next act will have to be his biggest to date. Many have given up on him, and this offseason will go a long way in determining if they are right or wrong.