BEREA, Ohio – In the wake of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz being dealt away from the teams that drafted them, the same phrase has begun to reverberate with regards to the Cleveland Browns and their quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
Two years ago, Goff and Wentz, the top two picks of the 2016 draft, signed the richest contract extensions in NFL history. Yet just this month, the two were jettisoned before those record extensions had even kicked in, leaving their former teams with record heaps of dead-money blows to their respective cap sheets.
This offseason, another former top pick is extension-eligible coming off a banner third season quarterbacking his team to the playoffs. And yet, some are wondering if the Browns should kick the can down the road on a Mayfield extension, largely because Goff and Wentz cratered soon after signing theirs.
Of course, that’s a rather fatalistic viewpoint of Mayfield and the Browns. And one focused on events elsewhere, instead of the facts on the ground in Cleveland.
True, Goff and Wentz regressed for various reasons after enjoying success early in their careers. But that doesn’t mean Mayfield will follow suit. In fact, all signs point to him getting better — next season and beyond.
For the first time since the Browns drafted him in 2018, Mayfield won’t have to dedicate his offseason to learning yet another new offense. After playing for three different head coaches over his first two seasons in the league, Mayfield thrived during the back-half of last season in first-time head coach Kevin Stefanski’s scheme, portending their budding future together.
“That’s a huge part of this,” Stefanski said last month, while revealing how thrilled Mayfield was to finally begin growing within the same offense. “We can start at that baseline and that foundation and build on what we’ve done.”
Mayfield had some rough moments early while adapting to Stefanski’s offense following a virtual offseason learning it. But from Week 7 through Week 15, just last year’s MVP (Patrick Mahomes) and this year’s MVP (Aaron Rodgers) posted a better QBR than Mayfield, who during that stretch tossed 15 touchdowns with just two interceptions. As a result, the Browns wound up finishing the regular season with 11 wins, their most since returning to the NFL in 1999.
“Once he started getting comfortable with what we were doing and once I was using more concepts that he was comfortable with, which is a big part of this,” Stefanski said, “he really started playing at a high level.”
Mayfield continued to play at a high level in the postseason, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in Cleveland’s first playoff victory in 26 years, a 48-37 win in Pittsburgh — where the Browns had not won in 17 attempts.
“You saw growth from him as a player from the first game to the last,” Stefanski said. “Really pleased with his progress, and I think he recognizes that he has room to grow.”
Any extension to any NFL player comes with at least some risk, as the cases of Goff and Wentz underscore. But at this point, the Browns either believe in Mayfield — or they don’t, at least not yet.
Cleveland already demonstrated that belief last offseason, committing a franchise-record $60 million in guaranteed money in free agency to upgrade Mayfield’s supporting cast, with All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin and Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper, plus veteran quarterback Case Keenum, to serve as Mayfield’s mentor.
The Browns also used the 10th pick in the draft on left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. to solidify the offensive line. With vastly improved protection and a scheme befitting his skill set, Mayfield rekindled the confidence and touch he flashed during his first season when he broke the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. He also emerged as the unquestioned leader of the locker room.
Given the upward trajectory of Mayfield and the Browns, there’s nothing to suggest Cleveland won’t double-down again on the former No. 1 overall pick in the coming months.
The Browns already will have to make a partial commitment to Mayfield this summer. As colleague Dan Graziano pointed out, starting with Mayfield’s 2018 draft class, fifth-year options for first-round picks are now fully guaranteed at the time they’re executed, at a significantly higher price than before.
But going halfway and pushing off an extension invites downside, too. What if Mayfield is better in 2021? A potential extension would cost the Browns even more down the line, as Tim Hasselbeck noted on ESPN this week. That would only make it more difficult to get one done at all.
On Wednesday, ESPN colleague Ed Werder suggested that the Dallas Cowboys might have to use their first-round pick on another quarterback, if they can’t lock up Dak Prescott to a multiyear deal before March 9. Returning to square one at quarterback is not where Cleveland wants to be again anytime soon.
To get a deal done with Mayfield this summer, the Browns probably will have to start in the neighborhood of $35 million over four years. That would make Mayfield one of the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, pending what happens with Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, who also are extension eligible.
But others down the line, like Mayfield’s former Oklahoma teammate Kyler Murray, are going to continue to reset the quarterback market next offseason. What might seem expensive now could quickly become a bargain, especially as the league negotiates new rights deals.
The Goff and Wentz situations also showed that even the worst-case scenario can still be mitigated. The Rams were able to turn Goff into Matthew Stafford; the Eagles flipped Wentz into draft capital. Sure, the cap sheets in Los Angeles and Philadelphia will be a mess this year as a result of those trades. But if Mayfield proves not to be the answer at quarterback, the Browns will already be in short-term trouble anyway, whether they extend him or not.
Franchise quarterbacks are incredibly hard to find, and it’s virtually impossible to win without one, as Cleveland has had to painfully learn over the years. Now is not the time to get cute, dodge about or worry why it might go wrong, just because it did in Philly or L.A.
The Browns appear — finally — to have their franchise quarterback. Acting otherwise could prove to be a cautionary tale of its own.
Rockers Kings of Leon to perform on first night of NFL draft
CLEVELAND — Kings of Leon will help kick off NFL draft activities on a stage close to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame later this month.
The Grammy Award-winning band will open the festivities on April 29 with a performance as the draft returns to a more normal state after being held virtually in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to being a top-selling act, lead singer Caleb Followill, his brothers Nathan and Jared and cousin Matthew are also football fans and have closely followed Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s career since he was a star at Oklahoma.
Hall of Fame rock singer Ann Wilson of Heart will sing the national anthem before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell begins calling the names of the league’s newest players. Goodell hosted the event last year from his home.
A massive stage is under construction near the Rock Hall and FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns’ downtown home.
Cleveland will be represented by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s All-City Choir, which will sing a special rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The local cover band The Sunrise Jones will serve as the house band for the first two nights of the draft.
Headlining musical acts for the second and third days of the draft will be announced in the coming weeks.
The draft will be held from April 29-May 1.
Browns banking on dominant Jadeveon Clowney, Myles Garrett pairing – Cleveland Browns Blog
BEREA, Ohio – Next season, the Cleveland Browns‘ defense will feature two former No. 1 overall picks off the edge. And they’re banking the All-Pro they drafted four years ago will help unlock the vast potential of the one they just signed.
Wednesday, Cleveland further bolstered its budding defense in free agency, inking Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal worth up to $10 million.
Unlike Myles Garrett, Clowney has yet to live up to the billing of being the No. 1 pick. But now healthy again, he sees playing in Cleveland alongside Garrett as an opportunity to finally do so in his eighth season in the league.
“I just want to show that I’m still an elite player,” Clowney said Wednesday. “And prove to other people that I’m still out here and can dominate.”
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Clowney is coming off a season with Tennessee during which he did anything but dominate. He played eight games with the Titans without notching a single sack, before missing the rest of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Since becoming the first pick in the 2014 draft, injuries have continually hampered Clowney, beginning with his first career game, which ultimately led to a microfracture in his right knee. Clowney passed a physical in Cleveland on Wednesday on both knees, clearing the way for the Browns to finally sign him.
“I don’t think everybody (has gotten) to see the person they drafted yet,” said Clowney, who has still made three Pro Bowls. “I think I’m working back towards that – I’m well on my way now.
“With my potential and the way I play the game – if I can stay healthy – I shouldn’t be far away from being Defensive Player of the Year. I think I have that potential, and I can do it.”
The Browns already boast a player who was in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation just last season in Garrett. Before contracting COVID-19 in late November, Garrett was leading the NFL with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Despite missing two games with the virus and laboring with his breathing after returning, Garrett still was named a first-team All-Pro.
Clowney, himself, has commanded plenty of attention from opposing offenses in the past, even with his injury history and inconsistent production. In fact, since 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Info, only Michael Bennett and Za’Darius Smith have been doubled-team more often.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Clowney, who, despite the constant double teams, still owns one of the five-best pass-rush win rates since 2018. “You game plan all week to go against one person, watch him all week to get pass-rush reps — and then you go into the game, and all of a sudden, it’s two people in front of you or somebody there to chip you the whole game.”
In Cleveland, however, Clowney could see the fewest double teams of his career, lining up opposite Garrett, who faced the third-highest rate of double teams last season.
“I’m looking forward to playing with somebody who is dominant on the opposite side like a Myles Garrett, who can draw a double team,” Clowney said. “Maybe I can go one-on-one more.”
Without a doubt, Clowney will see more one-on-one opportunities. And having already landed edge rusher Takkarist McKinley in free agency this offseason, Cleveland could deploy Clowney in the pass rush in a variety of creative ways.
“We love his relentless style of play,” general manager Andrew Berry said in a statement. “He’s one of the more disruptive players in the game and we think he’s going to add an element of ruggedness along our defensive line.
“The other thing we love about Jadeveon is his versatility, his ability to play all across the front and impact the game regardless of his alignment.”
Berry has been busy this offseason upgrading every level of a defense that ranked just 19th in efficiency in 2020 but for a team that still won 12 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Last month, the Browns landed arguably the top safety available in free agency in John Johnson III from the Rams. Berry also added three other potential defensive starters in linebacker Anthony Walker, nickelback Troy Hill and defensive tackle Malik Jackson.
Clowney, however, has enough talent to elevate the Browns’ defense to yet another level. Especially if he, in his own words, proves that he can be a dominant player once again.
“That is all I am here to prove this year,” he said. “We’re going to see this season.”
Seattle Seahawks extend team president Chuck Arnold through 2027
SEATTLE — The Seahawks have extended team president Chuck Arnold through 2027, they announced Wednesday.
Arnold is entering his 28th season with the Seahawks and his fourth in his current role. As president of the Seahawks and First & Goal Inc., which operates Lumen Field, he oversees the organization’s business and financial operations, sales, marketing and administration.
“Chuck continues to do an exceptional job working with and supporting the football operation while assuring that the entire Seahawks organization remains an engaged and invested community leader unafraid to tackle tough challenges in our region,” Jody Allen, chair of the Seahawks, said in the team’s release. “Stability, quality, and consistency of leadership is a key ingredient to our continued success and winning culture. I remain excited for the future of this organization both on and off the field.”
Arnold’s extension means more stability at the top of the organization. In January, the Seahawks gave general manager John Schneider an extension through the 2027 draft. Coach Pete Carroll was previously extended through the 2025 season.
A native of Tacoma, Washington, and a graduate of Washington State University, Arnold began his career with the Seahawks as an intern in 1994. He was their COO from 2013 to 2018 before replacing Peter McLoughlin as team president.
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