Browns GM Andrew Berry expects healthier Baker Mayfield to play best ball down stretch
In the early stages of Browns training camp, general manager Andrew Berry said July 30 he looked forward to quarterback Baker Mayfield having “another fantastic season.”
That hasn't come close to happening.
Berry hasn't given up on Mayfield finishing strong, though.
Whether Berry's goal is to boost Mayfield's confidence, challenge him or both is open interpretation, but the GM made it clear Wednesday the franchise isn't lowering its expectations for the quarterback despite his disappointing performances and long list of injuries — left, non-throwing shoulder, left heel, right knee and groin.
“Baker is incredibly physically tough,” Berry said on Zoom. “I think he’s told you guys in moments where he’s been frustrated with his own performance. That being said, he’s had stretches this year where he has played well for us, and look, the reality of it is that he’s worked through injuries, no different than other players on our roster. I know what he expects of himself and what we expect of him whenever he’s on the field to perform at a capable level, a winning level, and we expect him to play his best stretch of the year here after the bye.”
On their bye this week with a record of 6-6, the Browns need to go on a miraculous run in their final five games of the regular season to become postseason qualifiers for the second consecutive year.
In the context of Berry describing what he hopes to learn about the Browns in the coming weeks, his apparent attempt to speak Mayfield playing well into existence looks first and foremost like a challenge.
"The next five games really provide us with a really valuable opportunity," Berry said. "I think oftentimes people talk about adversity or challenges really when it's convenient, but the reality is it's really important to us as a team and organization because No. 1, you learn a lot about people, whether it's on the field, publicly or privately, but also, adversity is universally important for growth. I think that's something that we need as a team and we need as an organization, and I think the next five games provide us with a valuable opportunity to grow and work through what will be a very difficult stretch.
"The reality of it is entering the season and entering December, you hope for the opportunity to play meaningful football late in the year, and that's something that is still right in front of us. We're going to play five teams that I think are playoff caliber — four in the AFC and three in our division. I am excited about that opportunity. I am excited to learn about how our team deals with adversity and the resolve, and that is something that we are looking forward to seeing how our group responds out of the bye.”
More than anyone else, the Browns need Mayfield to respond well in their upcoming games against the Baltimore Ravens (8-3), Las Vegas Raiders (6-5), Green Bay Packers (9-3), Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1) and Cincinnati Bengals (7-4). The Browns won't play again until Dec. 12, when they'll host the Ravens, then the Raiders the next week. They'll visit the Packers and Steelers before facing the Bengals in the Jan. 9 regular-season finale in Cleveland.
The defense has been playing well lately, but Mayfield and the passing game haven't held up their end of the bargain. The Browns have scored more than 17 points just once in their past seven games.
How Andrew Berry is viewing Baker Mayfield's contract situation amid discouraging season
The Browns and Mayfield entered the season with the hope they would reach a long-term contract extension, but meaningful talks have yet to take place, and a disappointing 2021 has complicated matters.
Berry was asked whether he needs to see Mayfield play next season to decide his future with the organization.
“You really do try and take a wider lens, so to speak, but really our focus is on playing our best football in December and positioning ourselves to really play in the postseason this year because we have a ton of meaningful games, and that really significantly outsizes any individual player decision across the roster that we're going to make,” Berry said. “There will be plenty of time to think through how we're going to build the roster to next year, but at the end of the day, everybody's focus and energy within the organization is making sure that we do everything in our power to maximize the current season.”
Berry repeatedly referred to the body of work of Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Yet Mayfield never experienced continuity as a professional player until this season. He had never been with the same head coach and used the same playbook in consecutive seasons until now, and injuries have muddied the picture.
Presented those points and pressed on whether he needs to see Mayfield play more in Stefanski's offense to decide the quarterback's future, Berry said, “I don't think that's necessarily the case. But really the focus is making sure that both Baker and our team really play as well as possible the next five games so that we can be in a good position at the end of the month.”
To be clear, the Browns have ample time left with Mayfield, if they choose to use it. He is under contract through the 2022 season, when he'll make $18.858 million guaranteed because Berry exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie deal in April.
There can be added pressure and stress tied to playing for a contract extension.
Berry said he couldn't answer whether Mayfield has been negatively affected by his unresolved long-term contractual situation, but his educated guess is it has not.
“He's mentioned probably multiple times throughout the year that really his focus is on football and winning games,” Berry said. “I think there are a lot of players across the league that are in similar boats whether they're free agents or extension eligible. It comes with the territory in terms of being a professional athlete, but I do know this: Baker is both physically and mentally resilient, and he's hyper-focused.
“At the end of the day, he's hyper-focused on winning and controlling his play, the offensive play moving forward. I doubt that [the contract situation is] something that's really top of mind with him. That's why players hire representation to take care of business affairs for them. I think really all our focus is in terms of winning games down the stretch here.”
Berry said his belief Mayfield will be healthier in December, especially after resting this week during the bye, gives him hope the QB will play well down the stretch.
“I think certainly that’s part of it,” Berry said. “I think he’s told you guys he’s felt healthier week to week. But at the same time, I expect and I’m looking forward to seeing our guys work through this tough stretch, and that’s not just Baker. That’s our entire team. At the end of the day, we want to be playing our best football in December, and that’s really our mission. That’s our charge.”