Baker Mayfield was a savior in Cleveland for a variety of reasons during his rookie year, but most notably, the Browns No. 1 overall pick brought stability to a position that hadn’t had it this millennia.
It was long overdue.
After usurping Tyrod Taylor as the starter in Week 3, Mayfield passed for 3,725 yards and had and 27 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. If it were not for Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Mayfield would have surely been rewarded with Rookie of the Year honors.
While the Browns just missed out on the postseason, what Mayfield and the team did in the second half of the season — winning five of their last seven — brought a sense of hope to Cleveland about the future.
That hasn’t always been the case.
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After drafting Tim Couch No. 1 overall in 1999, the quarterback position became a revolving door for the Browns, who brought in a who’s who of mediocre talent to fill the spot.
Before Mayfield, Cleveland used a whopping 29 players since drafting Couch at QB.
Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Brady Quinn and some guy named Johnny Manziel all occupied the top QB spot on the depth chart at some point during the run.
A long-struggling fan base since their return to the NFL in 1999, the people of Cleveland have never been shy to make fun of themselves. They even threw a parade for their “perfect” 0-16 season.
It also spawned different special editions of the Browns QB carousel jersey.
It wouldn’t be inconceivable that the Browns get a solid decade-plus of production out of Mayfield if he can stay healthy. That’d be the best case situation, of course.
There’s not too much concern about Mayfield’s potential to build on a stellar rookie season — especially with his new weapons.
With a roster loaded with talent like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, whispers of the Browns being a Super Bowl contender have grown into full screams.
But what happens if Mayfield goes down?
Behind him sits veteran Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert and undrafted rookie David Blough.
Stanton has more than a decade of experience in the NFL, making the first start of his career for the Detroit Lions back in 2008 during their 0-16 campaign.
He’s basically a career backup and knows he’s in Cleveland simply to be a mentor to Mayfield. If he has to actually get on the field, things might get dicey.
One of the few success stories to emerge from the league, Gilbert was 157-of-259 for 2,152 yards with 13 touchdowns with the Orlando Apollos.
Interestingly enough, Gilbert and Mayfield went to the same high school — Lake Travis in Texas.
The NFL is a whole different ball game, but Gilbert has shown he could be serviceable in a pinch — albeit probably not for an extended period of time. His NFL career includes three pass attempts, all which came with the Panthers last season.
Blough played for Purdue during his college career, going 13-23 as the starter. He set the school’s single-game yardage mark with 572 passing yards against Missouri in a losing effort. It’s unlikely he will make the active roster in Cleveland.
So should the Browns stick with what they’ve got in the QB room, or go in search of a solution?
The free agent scrap heap includes names like Josh McCown — a former Browns QB — and Mark Sanchez, who very briefly revived his career in Washington last season. Tyrod Taylor would have been a perfect fit as a top-tier backup, but moved on to San Diego as a free agent after losing the job last year to Mayfield.
It wouldn’t be inconceivable that the Browns trade for a solid backup, but it’s unlikely.
Injuries can derail any season with expectations. But with so much invested in the passing game, Cleveland needs Mayfield to minimize his risks on the field and stay healthy if the team wants to break a postseason drought that extends back to 2002.
Baker or bust.