The Cleveland Browns are immensely talented, but Baker Mayfield’s rhetoric and a lack of experience could be major red flags.
Don’t get into another man’s business.
This is a credo most every NFL player believes in. Baker Mayfield is learning the hard way. After chastising running back Duke Johnson for demanding a trade, Mayfield was spoken to by veteran teammates about his actions. The message is simple: worry about your own wallet.
Heading into the season, Mayfield’s snafu is emblematic of what could be a larger problem for the Browns. Cleveland, pegged by many to be the AFC North favorite for the first time in 25 years, is long on talent and personality but short on experience.
The looming question on the shores of Lake Erie is easy and complex. Who’s going to be the leader?
Typically, it’s either the star quarterback or the wily veteran with rings, a mercenary of sorts brought in to win more jewelry. Cleveland has the quarterback, but Mayfield is only entering his second year. He’s promising, but also pugnacious. He can’t stop throwing touchdowns, but he can’t stop talking about other players, either. It’s a tantalizing watch from afar, and surely a maddening combination from within.
The general feeling in Cleveland is one of excitement. Within the building, the Browns certainly believe their talent will rule the day, with a winning culture breeding the leaders needed to play deep into January. There’s sound logic in those thoughts. There’s also reasonable doubt.
If Cleveland gets off to a slow start, who rallies the team?
Name a star on the Browns, and you’re naming someone who has never won a single playoff game. Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Kareem Hunt, David Njoku and Mayfield? They combine for zero postseason wins. Of that group, only Beckham, Vernon, Richardson and Hunt have even played in a 17th game.
Head coach Freddie Kitchens is also in uncharted waters. Kitchens was promoted from running backs coach to offensive coordinator upon Hue Jackson’s firing last season, and then given the top spot in January. Kitchens has never been a head coach at any level, and he walks into a situation teeming with expectation and eclectic personas.
All of this while the AFC North is rife with experience and two teams apparently able to win.
The Baltimore Ravens are defending divisional champs and have a head coach with a ring and 104 regular-season victories. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a two-time champion and future Hall of Famer at quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. They also have a title-winning coach in Mike Tomlin and arguably the best offensive line in football. The departure of Antonio Brown hurts on the stat sheet, but don’t believe Pittsburgh will go quietly.
None of this means Cleveland can’t win double-digit games and host a playoff tilt for the first time since 1994. The Browns appear to be the most talented team in the division. Talent typically wins out, but this is a fascinating experiment. A team which went 0-16 only two years ago is now universally considered to have a top-10 roster, all without any of the main characters having any meaningful triumph.
For now, optimism reigns. Everything is rosy because nothing is hard. We’ll see whether the Browns have the mettle of a winner when times are tough. We’ll also find out if someone can lead them through the inevitable moments of darkness.
Top 10 wide receiver tandems since the AFL-NFL merger
1. Cris Carter and Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings
2. Jerry Rice and John Taylor, San Francisco 49ers
3. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, St. Louis Rams
5. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals
6. Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
7. Andre Reed and James Lofton, Buffalo Bills
8. John Jefferson and Charlie Joiner, San Diego Chargers
9. Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, Miami Dolphins
10. Art Monk and Gary Clark, Washington Redskins
"“I certainly don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it. You’re aware of it. I’m focused on what we’re doing here and focused on trying to practice as well as I could these past six weeks and show some progress over these six weeks. So, at the end of the day, I’m grateful to be part of this franchise, get this opportunity and looking forward to keeping it going.”"
– New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones being booed at Yankee Stadium
Jones has the right attitude. Whether he’s a colossal bust or a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he’s going to be booed in New York. He’s going to be booed multiple times every season. Phil Simms went through it. Eli Manning went through it. Jones is going to go through it. It’s part of playing for the most aggressively passionate people in the country.
Each Friday, Verderame puts out a new mailbag covering all things NFL and then a little more. Make sure to submit your questions to him via Twitter or email!
Before leaving Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982, the Raiders amassed a .617 win percentage (195-110-11) over their 22-year history. Since returning in 1995, the Raiders have amassed a .398 win percentage (153-231-0 …398), more than 200 points lower than before relocating. Karma, man.
Info learned this week
1. Saints would be wise to extend Thomas this summer
Michael Thomas reportedly wants $22 million per season. The Saints should fork it over.
While a contract of such value would reset the market for wide receivers, New Orleans is better off doing this deal before training camp. Thomas, 26, has notched at least 1,137 yards and 92 receptions in each of his three seasons. In the prime of his career and with Drew Brees under center, he stands to have another prolific campaign.
Currently, Odell Beckham’s five-year, $90 million ($65 million) deal is the ceiling for receivers. Thomas is going to eclipse $100 million. The Saints could wait through this season and then apply the franchise tag, but they would up against the cap. Using a $200 million projected cap, New Orleans has $42 million to spend. Drew Brees is going to need another large, short-term payout which will eat more than half of the space. A tag for Thomas, and the Saints are hamstrung.
The best answer? Sign Thomas now to an extension with escalating cap numbers.
2. Every training camp should be extremely accessible to fans
The Philadelphia Eagles are causing quite a stir with their training camp policy. Rightfully so.
Philadelphia announced only one practice will be open to the public, largely due to practicing at the team’s NovaCare facility. As Yahoo’s Eric Edholm noted, the Eagles have been cutting back access in the summer, but it’s a trend the NFL should attempt to reverse both in Philadelphia and other cities.
Sports are entertainment. Fans want to know their favorite entertainers. Training camp is the perfect place to hold meet-and-greets, Kids Day, autograph sessions, etc. Allow the patrons to connect on a personal level, and let them do it for free. Don’t worry, the NFL will make money on the back end, because said fans will then go out and buy even more merchandise.
3. Jets changing culture with array of bright minds in front office
Replacing Mike Maccagnan with Joe Douglas as general manager was an upgrade. Fortunately for Jets fans, the team wasn’t finished.
New York has spent the past week filling out the front office below Douglas. For their efforts, the Jets landed former general manager Phil Savage, one of the most respected talent evaluators in the business. Savage, who comes on as a senior advisor, worked with Douglas in Baltimore for five seasons, earning a Super Bowl ring in 2000.
New York also hired Rex Hogan to be the assistant general manager. Hogan had previously served as vice president of player personnel with the Indianapolis Colts, learning at the knee of Chris Ballard. Hogan is a name to watch in future years for a general manager gig of his own.
Between Douglas, Hogan and Savage, New York has a power trio in its front office to be feared by opponents.
4. Michael Roberts has endured a rough two weeks
Think you’re having a rough few weeks on the job? Don’t talk to Michael Roberts about it.
On June 13, the tight end was traded from the Detroit Lions to the New England Patriots for a conditional seventh-round pick. Less than 24 hours later, Roberts failed his physical, cancelling the trade. The same day, the Lions released Roberts.
From there, Roberts was claimed by the Green Bay Packers. The union was cut short, though, by another failed physical. Roberts remains an unrestricted free agent, hoping to catch on with a fourth team in short order.
Last season, the 25-year-old caught nine passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns over eight games.
5. League should pull out all stops for 100th anniversary
The last time the league made a big deal out of anniversary? 1994.
That year was the 75th NFL campaign, and it was marked by each team wearing their throwback uniforms. Heck, the San Francisco 49ers wore theirs all the way to a championship. Instead of all the color rush nonsense, the league should relaunch the idea of throwbacks, although there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place for all 32 teams to do so.
Considering this is the 100th anniversary, a patch isn’t good enough. The NFL should be honoring legends at every game, interspersing flashbacks into every broadcast and, again, having teams wear old uniforms that fans love. Those are just a few ideas for what should be a massive celebration.
No team endured a worse five-year stretch of playoff defeats than the Browns.
In 1985, Cleveland won the old AFC Central with an 8-8 record. A two-touchdown underdog at the Orange Bowl in Miami, the Browns led the Dolphins midway through the third quarter. Wilting in the South Florida sun, they lost, 24-21.
The following year, the Dawg Pound was rocking for the AFC Championship Game. Of course, John Elway, the Denver Broncos and The Drive happened. The following year saw the same participants in the same game, only with the venue switching to Denver. There, Earnest Byner lost a fumble while going in for the would-be game-tying score in the waning seconds.
In 1988, Cleveland once more won the AFC Central despite a host of injuries. In the Wild Card round, the Browns lost a relatively normal game to the Houston Oilers. Why is this tough? Somehow, this convinced owner Art Modell to fire head coach Marty Schottenheimer.
Then in 1989, one last gasp. Another trip to the AFC title game. Another game against Elway. Another loss. The Browns haven’t been that deep into the playoffs since.
There’s an incredible amount of pressure on the quarterback class of 2017.
Only two years after being first-round picks, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky are all approaching moments in their careers.
Each are defending division titles. Each are the flash point their respective fanbases look at, wondering how far their team will go.
In Kansas City, Mahomes is the 23-year-old ringleader of the NFL’s most explosive attack. The Chiefs are co-favorites in Vegas alongside the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl LIV. If they are to reach that lofty perch for the first time in 50 years, it’ll undoubtedly be due to the reigning MVP.
For Houston, Watson remains the central reason why the Texans are in contention. Beyond DeAndre Hopkins and a good pass rush, the roster has largely atrophied around him. Still, Watson is expected to drag Houston into the playoffs and perhaps win a game come January for the first time in his career.
Finally, Trubisky. The Bears are a popular regression candidate, but not among many in the Windy City. The expectation is Super Bowl, with most believing the defense needs to be the driving force. If Chicago falls short and the offense is average or worse, Trubisky will absorb plenty of the blame. In short, Trubisky must improve or face the wrath of a football-crazed city with thoughts of grandeur.