Baker Mayfield’s nightmare of a season is over.
Instead of Mayfield quarterbacking the Browns (7-9) in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at FirstEnergy Stadium, he will be shut down, coach Kevin Stefanski said Tuesday on Zoom.
Mayfield will soon undergo surgery on the completely torn labrum he suffered in his left, non-throwing shoulder in Week 2, and backup Case Keenum is expected to start versus the Bengals.
“Baker won’t play in this last game,” Stefanski said. “We’re going to hold him out. We’re going to get surgery scheduled really as soon as possible so that he can get back healthy as soon as possible.
“Throughout this whole thing, we have tried to make the right decision based on all the information available to us, constant dialogue with our medical staff, with Baker, all those type of things, and throughout have really felt comfortable based on all that information that he was able to play and those type of things.”
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After the Browns lost 26-14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Monday Night Football” at Heinz Field, Mayfield revealed for the first time publicly he would undergo surgery on his problematic shoulder. He also said he would talk to his agents and family about sitting out the final week of the season.
Stefanski said the Browns worked with Mayfield’s camp to make the final decision.
“I think both sides very involved,” Stefanski said. “I think throughout this whole thing, constant dialogue with Baker, with our medical team, second opinions, his agent, those type of things. Just having conversations with his agent this morning and conversations with Baker, just felt like that was the right thing to do.”
Stefanski said he didn’t have a timetable for Mayfield’s recovery, but rehabilitation from a surgically repaired torn labrum is typically four to six months.
“I am going to have surgery,” Mayfield said Monday night on Zoom. “I am going to get this shoulder fixed and be able to come back next year at 100%.”
Mayfield is under contract with the Browns through next season because, in April, General Manager Andrew Berry exercised the fifth-year option on the quarterback’s rookie deal for $18.858 million.
However, Mayfield’s future with the Browns is in question after his 2021 season proved to be a massive disappointment, and it should be no surprise if Berry seeks an upgrade in the offseason at the sport’s most important position.
Mayfield finished the season 253-of-418 passing (60.5%) for 3,010 yards and 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions for a rating of 83.1 in 14 games, going 6-8 as a starter. He rushed 37 times for 134 yards (3.6 average) and a touchdown. He took 43 sacks.
“I’ll wait to talk about reflecting on this season,” Stefanski said. “There will be time for that. Ultimately, I’m frustrated for Baker not to be able to finish the season and those type of things, but anything past that I’ll kind of wait to discuss.”
Mayfield and the Browns clearly have not been in lockstep about the degree to which injuries affected his performance in his fourth NFL season. Although Mayfield repeatedly stated his desire to play, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft has admitted injuries have impacted his accuracy as a passer.
“Now it’s time for me to start looking at what’s in the best interest for me and my health,” Mayfield said Monday night. “I’ve continued to lay it out on the line, and I haven’t been healthy.
“Right now, I’m pretty damn beat up to be honest with you. There’s no way around it. I gave it everything I had tonight.”
On Dec. 1, Berry best summarized the Browns’ viewpoint on Mayfield’s injuries when he said, “He’s healthy enough to win games for us.”
The torn labrum and fraying Mayfield suffered in the shoulder Sept. 19 when he tried to make a tackle on an interception return against the Houston Texans headlines a long list of injuries. He also suffered a fractured humerus bone in the same shoulder on Oct. 17 in Week 6 and lower-body injuries (left heel, right knee contusion and groin) later in the season. He has worn a shoulder harness since Week 2.
It wasn’t until Friday that Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said Mayfield had been “hindered” by the harness, a notion Stefanski downplayed later the same day.
The Browns sat Mayfield the game after he suffered the fracture in the shoulder, and Keenum helped them prevail 17-14 over the Denver Broncos on Oc. 21. The only other game Mayfield missed was a 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Dec. 20, when he and Keenum sat out due to COVID-19 and third-string quarterback Nick Mullens started.
Stefanski said it’s fair to question whether the Browns regret not resting Mayfield more.
“But I would just tell you each one of those weeks and those days when we made those decisions, you’re just going off the information that’s available to you,” Stefanski said, “and that’s information from our medical staff, from Baker, from the second opinions, those type of things, and then based on how he performed in practice. That’s kind of how we made the decision each week.”
Stefanski was asked again how much injuries affected Mayfield in the 2021 season.
“Throughout we’ve been pretty consistent,” Stefanski said. “I think Baker’s been pretty consistent telling you guys how he felt week in and week out. I’m not going to say that all of it didn’t affect it in some way. Of course, it would affect it in some way. But I think he’s been pretty clear that he’s been ready to go in these games.”
Injuries aren’t the only point of contention.
Mayfield hasn’t been satisfied with Stefanski’s game plans and play calling, either, and he made it known twice this season.
After the Browns defeated the Baltimore Ravens 24-22 on Dec. 12, Mayfield lamented the offense had become too conservative.
In his postgame media availability Monday night, Mayfield criticized the game plan for combatting Steelers star edge rusher T.J. Watt. Mayfield pointed out rookie right tackle James Hudson III should have received more help with double-teams and chip blocks against Watt. The Browns have been using Hudson and Blake Hance at right tackle since All-Pro Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 28 in a 16-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“Obviously their front’s pretty good. It has been for years,” Mayfield said of the Steelers (8-7-1). “But when you’ve got T.J. Watt over there and we’re not giving our rookie tackle a whole lot of help, it’s not going to be good.”
Mayfield also said Monday night the offense hasn’t always been put in positions to succeed by the coaches.
“Do I believe I could play better? Absolutely,” he said. “Do I believe there’s positions that we as an offense could’ve been put in that are better? Absolutely. There’s so many critiques throughout the year. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be sitting here at 7-9. So it is what it is.”
Asked whether he put Mayfield in positions to succeed this season, Stefanski said, “I just think we were at times as a team we’ve been very inconsistent this season, as an offense certainly. All things that we’ll look at long term once the season’s over and have a chance to look at all of it. But certainly there’s frustrations there.”
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