Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was already taking unprecedented heat after a disappointing season, and now an old nemesis is piling on.
College football analyst Paul Finebaum made an appearance on ESPN Cleveland Friday, January 7, where he did not mince words about his thoughts on Mayfield or how the Browns should handle their situation with the faltering quarterback.
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“He is a poor man’s Johnny Manziel,” Finebaum said. “I think Cleveland ought to get rid of him. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think the Browns are wasting their time with this guy.”
Finebaum and Mayfield Have Heated History
Finebaum’s analysis of Mayfield’s play and true value as a starting quarterback should be taken, at the very least, with a sizable grain of salt. There are several reasons why.
The first, and most glaring, is that the analyst himself admitted a contentious personal history between the two, expressing his dislike for Mayfield and insulting the quarterback all in the same breath he used to suggest the Browns sideline him and move on.
“I got into it with him in college,” Finebaum told ESPN Cleveland Friday. “He came after me on Twitter. And I thought he was a punk then and nothing has changed.”
Finebaum may not be the most objective judge of Mayfield’s character or his play, evidenced by the analyst’s own words. Beyond the insult hurling, Finebaum’s objectivity could also be questioned solely based on the comparison he made between Mayfield and Manziel, the latter of whom was a spectacular failure in Cleveland.
Selected by the Browns with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Manziel never materialized as a professional quarterback. He appeared in just 14 games over two seasons in Cleveland, starting 8 of those and finishing his career with a 2-6 record.
Manziel completed just 57% of his passes during that span for a total of 1,675 yards through the air to go along with 7 TDs and 7 INTs, per Pro Football Reference. He also rushed for 259 yards and 1 TD, recording 7 career fumbles. He has not appeared in an NFL game since 2015.
Mayfield, on the other hand, was drafted No. 1 overall and has had a real measure of success in the NFL, even if he has fallen short of expectations. He has a win/loss record of 29-30 as the Browns starter over four seasons and has completed 61.6% of his passes for 14,125 yards, complemented by 92 TDs and 56 INTs. He’s also rushed for 571 yards and 5 TDs, putting the ball on the ground 27 times, or a little less than once every two games.
Mayfield is also largely responsible for the Browns’ first playoff appearance in 18 years last season, as well as the team’s first playoff victory in more than a quarter century, which came with the extra bonus of being a double-digit win over the AFC North Division rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Criticism of Mayfield is fine — it’s warranted after the way he played down the stretch this season, even when factoring in a torn labrum in his left shoulder and lingering lower body injuries that unquestionably hampered his performance. But Finebaum’s critique of Mayfield as a “poor man’s Johnny Manziel” is not fine, it’s not fair, it’s clearly biased and it’s honestly a bit of a joke.
Finebaum Feud Represents Mayfield’s Most Recent Media Clash
Some of Finebaum’s fire for the Cleveland quarterback may have been fueled by a feud Mayfield initiated earlier this week with another member of the media, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
Cabot reported tension between Mayfield and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, who is also responsible for play-calling duties in Cleveland. She wrote the following:
Mayfield’s issues with Stefanski bubbled below the surface most of the season, with Mayfield feeling like Stefanski’s play calling didn’t always put him in position to succeed or play to his strengths, sources told Cleveland.com.
If Mayfield doesn’t get reassurance that things will change next season, he’ll consider asking to be traded. He’s under contract for $18.858 million in his fifth-year option but at this point, it’s uncertain if the Browns even view him as their starter for 2022.
The quarterback did not take kindly to the report, calling it “clickbait” in his response via Twitter on Thursday, January 6.
“You and many other Cleveland local media continue to be drama stirring reporters with no sources or facts,” Mayfield wrote. “Don’t put words in my mouth so you can put food on your table. I’m not your puppet.”