Sources ‘Close to’ Baker Mayfield Think Browns Wanted QB to Look ‘Hapless’ vs. Steelers: Report

Baker Mayfield

Joe Sargent/Getty Images Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long history of “breaking” the Cleveland Browns.

Since 2008, six Browns head coaches have been fired in the wake of a loss to the Steelers. And for many years, former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the winningest quarterback in the history of Cleveland’s First Energy Stadium, which opened in 1999, five years before Big Ben entered the league.

Most recently, the Browns severed ties with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on November 5, just five days a 15-10 home loss to the Steelers, improving Roethlisberger’s regular-season record against the Browns to 24-2-1.

Now, ESPN staff writer Jake Trotter has reported that the teams’ January 3 matchup was, in effect, the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of the relationship between Mayfield and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.

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The Steelers Swept Beckham – and Now Mayfield? – Out of Cleveland

According to Trotter’s story, Mayfield had already “begun losing faith in Stefanski” at least a week before the Browns visited Heinz Field for a Week 17 matchup between the AFC North rivals.

“That feeling escalated the next week, on Jan. 3 during a Monday Night Football game in Pittsburgh. In what proved likely to be his final start for the Browns, Mayfield was sacked nine times. Afterward, he called out Stefanski’s game plan,” Trotter wrote in the story published May 5.

“When you’ve got [NFL defensive player of the year] T.J. Watt over there, and we’re not giving our rookie tackle [James Hudson] a whole lot of help, it’s not going to be good for us,” said Mayfield after the 26-14 loss to the Steelers.

At one point, Mayfield threw 10 consecutive incompletions, yet Stefanski kept his starting quarterback in through the final offensive play — a Mayfield interception — even though he was playing with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, an injury suffered in Week 2.

“According to multiple sources, those close to Mayfield … wondered at the time if the Browns were trying to make Mayfield look as hapless as possible in prime time, to potentially pave the way for the franchise to more easily explain why it might be moving on from him in the offseason,” Trotter wrote.


Former Coach: Browns ‘Intentionally Lost Games’

It seems almost unfathomable that a team would undermine its franchise quarterback — the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft — in a game against its bitterest rival.

Then again, this is the same organization that recently saw former head coach Hue Jackson claim that “the team intentionally lost games in the 2016 and 2017 seasons,” according to a May 2 story by Trotter, who reported that an independent review found no evidence to substantiate Jackson’s claims. (Hue Jackson was fired midway through the 2018 season — after a loss to the Steelers, of course — having posted a record of 3-36-1 during his tenure.)

Meanwhile, Mayfield has yet to be traded or released by the Browns, the situation complicated by the fact that he is owed a guaranteed salary of $18.9 million in 2022, the cost of his fifth-year option, which the Browns picked up on April 23, 2021.

In late March, Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot said the Steelers would “pounce” on Baker Mayfield if he were an unrestricted free agent, though her report came a month before the Steelers selected Kenny Pickett 20th overall in the draft. It has also been suggested that Mayfield would sign with the Steelers “the very next day” if given the opportunity, according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on April 20.

For the moment at least, Mayfield remains on Cleveland’s roster, having lost his job to former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was traded to the Browns in mid-March and subsequently signed a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million.

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