As we are firmly past the mid-way point of the 2018 NFL season, we can now better assess where teams and individual players are in their development and overall production. One of the more exciting and hope-inspiring players has been, without a doubt, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. He has been under center for the Browns since he took over for Tyrod Taylor in the second quarter of Cleveland's third game of the season, at home against the New York Jets. Ever since then, there has been an air of cautious optimism and tempered confidence as the "Dawg Pound" watches its newest puppy grow into what it hopes will be the toughest junkyard dog on the block.
What Is the Impact Baker Mayfield Has Had on the Cleveland Browns?
There are several immediate, and even a few long-term, effects that Mayfield has had on a franchise that is in desperate need of stability at the quarterback position, along with its coaching staff and the front office. Solid and consistent quarterback play can go along way in covering up flaws and making everybody else look good. Here are some of the benefits the Browns are already experiencing as a result of Mayfield's presence on the field.
A Revitalized Fan Base
After Mayfield stepped in for the injured Tyrod Taylor on the last drive of the first half against the Jets and led what had been an anemic offense down for a field goal to put some much-needed points on the board, the fans at FirstEnergy Stadium began to buzz in a way not seen there in a very long time. Even after the game, many stayed around to watch Mayfield in the post-game interviews where the chants of "BAK-ER MAY-FIELD" continued long after the final whistle blew. In a stadium that usually begins to empty out by the end of the third quarter, some fans reported needing close to two hours to get out of the building and on the road.
Increased Ticket Sales
Immediately after the come-from-behind victory against the Jets that night, demand for seats in the upcoming home games skyrocketed, with many expecting that Mayfield would take over the starting role from Taylor. Cleveland Browns ticket broker Mark Klang reported, "It was like what it was the night Johnny Manziel got drafted, except then it went on for thirty minutes. This was still going two hours after the game ended. And not just for the next home game. For all games".
An Offseason without Quarterback Questions
Since the Browns re-entered the NFL via expansion in 1999, they had started 30 different players at the quarterback position, with Mayfield being the 31st. A revolving door like that usually leads to an offseason of uncertainty from the front office and coaching staff. Having to search for an answer at quarterback either through trade, free agency, or the draft takes a lot of focus away from other areas that need addressing in the spring and summer. With Mayfield settled into the position at least into next season, the Browns can finally spend the offseason looking to make personnel moves that will add help and depth to other spots on the team, as well as increase the chances of success for its young signal caller.
A Re-Energized Team
It cannot be understated how important team energy is in the NFL. It is a long, grueling 16-game season in which even the toughest players get beat up and worn down. This is especially true in the brutal NFC North, where the weather gets cold and wet and the hits feel harder and harder as the season drags on. For a team like Cleveland, who has had little to play for past the first month or so of almost every season they have existed, the fact that they have a young, exciting quarterback who may be the future is more than enough reason to dig down and find that motivation to grind out those extra yards and wrap those tackles up a little tighter.
While these immediate impacts are certainly welcome to a franchise that has had little to cheer about or look forward to since virtually its first season back in the League, there are also some key long-term benefits this could have for them, which may be even more important. Let's look at a few.
A Stable Coaching Staff
While the Browns have had a laughable number of starting quarterback since its 1999 return to the NFL (31, in case you forgot already), they have also had 10 different head coaches in that same period. Only the woeful Oakland Raiders have surpassed that level of futility, with Jon Gruden's second stint with the club making him the eleventh head coach in that span. Having fired both the head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Browns have made it clear that dysfunction and in-fighting will not be tolerated within the organization any longer, especially not with a rookie quarterback that needs to be developed. If the Browns are able to settle at quarterback with Mayfield, it will allow them to find the right kind of coach and coordinator for him this offseason. Additionally, if he flourishes under the new leadership, it should lead to stability all around.
Direction In Player-Personnel Management
Along with bringing a stability to the coaching staff, having a steady presence at quarterback can also lead to a better plan for player acquisition and movement. When a team knows who their quarterback is going into the offseason, they can acquire talent that compliments what he does best and gives him the best chance to succeed on the field. For example, if a quarterback has a big arm, then the team may want to add a wide receiver with breakaway speed to increase big play possibilities. If he is better with shorter, high accuracy throws, the team may want to acquire a wide receiver especially adept at route running. Likewise, an immobile quarterback may benefit from having a running back that excels in pass protection, while a mobile one would do better to have a back who could catch passes when the defense is closing in on him. The bottom line here is that when you are set at the quarterback position, what you need everywhere else becomes a little clearer.
A Long-Term Vision for the Team
There is an old adage in football that you build a team from the inside out, meaning you start with your offensive and defensive lines and work your way out. That may have been true at one point, especially in the smash-mouth days of lining players up and running it down their opponents' throats, but those days are long gone. In today's pass-first NFL, you have to build a team from the quarterback out. This is what the Browns have been trying and failing to do since they drafted Tim Couch with their first pick in the 1999 draft, and they hope that they have now gotten right with Mayfield. Once a team finds its franchise quarterback and builds a team and coaching staff around him, they can finally begin to focus on the future and put together a strategy for the next decade and beyond.
Why Is This Important?
Without stability in the quarterback position, it is very difficult to have stability anywhere else in the organization. Poor play under center leads to a revolving door at head coach and general manager. With the constant turnover in the front office and coaching staff, players are continually on the move, and there is never a steady direction for the team. Each new general manager and head coach has a different idea and method for success. A franchise will stay mired in mediocrity, or worse, and never be able to put a competitive team on the field. We have several examples of this in the NFL today. Teams like the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and, until last year with the acquisition of Jimmy Garapallo, the San Francisco 49ers have all been in a seemingly never-ending cycle of new QB's, new coaching staffs and new front offices.
While everything we have already seen can come simply from having steady, quality play from the quarterback, all of the ramifications still can't be grasped in such a short explanation. The greatest things Mayfield brings to this team are his intangibles. That swagger and confidence that has been lacking in Cleveland for nearly 20 years seems to be slowly seeping into the culture of a team long in need of such a shot in the arm. After the best performance in his young career against the Falcons, Mayfield said that he woke up that morning feeling "dangerous." The reporters loved it and offered up a good laugh, but he wasn't joking. Baker is a gritty, underestimated quarterback who has been disrespected at every turn. Mayfield was forced twice in college to earn a spot on the team as a walk-on, first at Texas Tech and then again at Oklahoma, where he would go on to win the Heisman and put together one of the greatest seasons in the storied program's history. He's always at his best when nobody believes in him and always at his most "dangerous" when dismissed, just as the Browns have been for the better part of two decades. However, this guy is no Johnny Manziel; he's no flash in the pan. Additionally, if Jim Brown can get excited about this kid, then maybe the rest of us should consider following suit.