Kurt Warner hasn't seen enough consistency from Browns' Baker Mayfield to call him franchise QB
Hall of Famer Kurt Warner heard about the criticism Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has received this season on social media from the fathers of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Kareem Hunt and decided to break down game film to see for himself.
In a video posted Dec. 2 on Warner's “QBConfidential” YouTube channel, the NFL Network analyst mentioned Mayfield has been “taking shots from other players' dads” before detailing why the vast majority of the offense's woes in the first half of the Browns' 16-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 28 at M&T Bank Stadium were not the fault of Mayfield.
But whether the Browns should sign Mayfield to a contract extension is another question, one of many Warner entertained Tuesday during a phone interview with the Beacon Journal.
Warner is skeptical Mayfield, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2018, would prove to be a wise long-term investment for a team seeking championship-level quarterback play.
“You've got to figure out as an organization what you're trying to do,” said Warner, who won a Super Bowl as the starting quarterback of the 1999 St. Louis Rams. “What's the goal right now for the Cleveland Browns? Is it to be competitive? Is it to win a championship? And then you ask yourself, 'OK, who's our quarterback? What level is he at?'
“Then the third question becomes, 'Are we OK with that level, thinking we can raise our team's level around him or do we need to go and get a guy who can raise our level by himself and cut ties with a guy like Baker with where he's at right now?' There's some guys that it takes them four or five years, six years, to get to that level, and you might have a quarterback that you say, 'He's not there yet, but we think he's going to get there.'”
Does Warner believe Mayfield, 26, can reach the point where he's capable of consistently elevating the Browns?
“What I've seen from Baker, I would say no,” Warner said. “I would say I haven't seen him show me that he can be that guy. I'm only going to go off of what I've seen up to this point. I'm looking at tape. I'm not seeing him every day in practice. I don't know the makeup of him in the room. I don't know some of the X factors that go into it.
“Simply by looking at the tape, I haven't seen good enough consistency by him to say that he can be a franchise guy at this point. I'm not in the business of having to project out two years. I'm just simply going off what he's done in these four years, and I just think he's been wildly inconsistent and inconsistent enough that I'm saying to myself, 'I'm not banking on this guy carrying me to a Super Bowl if he can't put together games in a season at a certain level of consistency that you need from that position.'”
The Browns and Mayfield entered this season hoping they would be compelled to forge a partnership for years to come, yet 2021 hasn't unfolded according to either side's plan, and meaningful extension talks have not materialized.
Coming off a Week 13 bye, the Browns (6-6) need to win at least four of their final five regular-season games to achieve their stated goal of making the playoffs for the second consecutive year, and a crucial rematch with the AFC North-leading Ravens (8-4) awaits them Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Although the Browns have a slim chance to redeem themselves down the stretch, they have underachieved thus far. The defense has limited opponents to 16 or fewer points in five of the past six games, but the team has scored more than 17 points just once in the past seven games.
“It's too simple to just say it's all about Baker,” Warner said. “I look at their team and I say to myself, 'If they can't run the football, they're an average football team.' I don't see them being dominant in any area besides the run game, so when they're going to struggle in the run game, I'm not sure they have the weapons on the outside that says we can just drop back and pass the ball 40 times. I'm not sure Baker is the quarterback that you say, 'Oh, we're going to get into a drop-back game and throw the ball 40 times.' And their defense, although has looked really good at times, when I watch them on film, they don't look dominant to me.
“[A .500 record is] kind of what you get when you have a team that's good but not great and can win a certain way. You expect them to kind of be in the middle of the pack, and that's kind of where I see them. That's kind of what you've seen all year – some good moments, some good games and some games where they haven't been so good. You can point to each one of those factors, and they play into whether they win or lose games.”
Kurt Warner doesn't believe injuries have hindered Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield to a large degree
Mayfield has been inconsistent and injured throughout the season.
Like the Browns, Warner isn't giving Mayfield much of a pass for the injuries, which include or have included a completely torn labrum suffered in his left shoulder in Week 2, a fractured humerus bone suffered in that same non-throwing shoulder in Week 6 and the lower-body injuries (left heel, right knee contusion and groin) he has endured in some or all of the past four games.
“If he's in pain, that affects everything,” Warner said. “If you're playing in pain and you feel that pain in the course of a game, that can, of course, affect you. But assuming that they're dulling that pain, I would say [the injuries aren't affecting his performance] that much.”
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When Browns General Manager Andrew Berry spoke to media on Dec. 1, he said Mayfield is “healthy enough to win games for us.” Berry added he's expecting Mayfield to play his best ball in the final five games of the season.
On their most recent injury report, the Browns listed Mayfield with left shoulder and foot injuries and labeled him a full participant in practice the entire week.
“If [quarterbacks] look like they can make a bunch of throws, I can't say, 'Oh, they can make those seven throws that are unbelievable, but the shoulder's bothering them enough that those other three throws are because of their shoulder,'” Warner said. “If they weren't making the throws and they were missing things that I would normally see them make, now we can have that conversation. But Baker makes enough big-time throws with that shoulder that I don't believe it can be affecting him to the point where it's one good throw, one bad throw or all of his throws are affected by it. I'm not seeing that.”
Warner said he has never worn a shoulder harness like Mayfield has for virtually all of this season, though a torn ulnar collateral ligament in Warner's left, non-throwing elbow forced him to don a brace while he quarterbacked the Arizona Cardinals in 2007.
“If you're doing it right, you're not really trying to engage your left shoulder, so a harness should have nothing to do with throwing the football,” Warner said. “Now if you don't do it right, and there are some guys that kind of lift that arm a little bit more and there are some limitations there and it changes the way you throw a football, then yeah.
“If you've got certain habits and you're wearing a brace that changes those habits, could that affect you? Sure it can. But you can still make every throw without your left arm being involved at all, and that's why I don't think that should be a really big factor outside of if he's just in pain.”
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Warner actually gives more credence to Mayfield's lower-body injuries affecting his accuracy than any issues he has experienced with his left shoulder or the harness designed to prevent it from repeatedly dislocating.
“Most injuries that I played with, I didn't feel it in the course of a game,” Warner said. “It wasn't something that would affect me when I dropped back because all the sudden I feel my heel. Most of that stuff would either be blocked out or dulled by some sort of medication, so I wasn't feeling it in game.
“Of course, I would feel it when the medication wore off, but it didn't affect me when I was actually playing. But, yeah, I think any lower-body injury that you're feeling can definitely affect things because the lower body to me is the most important part of throwing and accuracy.”
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The Browns have time to give Mayfield another shot to show what he is in the offense of coach Kevin Stefanski. Mayfield is under contract through the 2022 season as a result of Berry exercising the fifth-year option on the player's rookie deal in April for $18.858 million guaranteed.
This season is the first in Mayfield's NFL career in which the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Oklahoma has had the same head coach and same playbook for a second year in a row.
Everyone involved expected the continuity to pay off this season more than it has.
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The Browns could seek an upgrade over Mayfield in the offseason, but Warner envisions a less drastic approach. No one should be surprised if competition is acquired for Mayfield in the coming months, though.
“There's only so many guys that are franchise guys, guys that can carry your team, guys that you can put the ball in their hands and expect them to win games for you regardless of what else is going on around them,” Warner said. “There's only so many of those. He is not that guy. So, to me, you have him under [contract] for another year, you play it out, or at least play it out halfway through the year, and you see what you have.
“You have to make a decision on what you think he is. You've got to get that right. What is he? Is he a championship quarterback? Is he an elite quarterback? Is he a good quarterback? Is he a playoff quarterback? What is he? You have to start there, and until you know that, I don't think you can panic. I don't think you can cut the guy because he's been good enough in these four years, and he's got you to the playoffs and he's been better than what you've had in two decades. So you say to yourself, 'OK, we know we've got a playoff quarterback here. Now we have to decide is he that franchise guy.'”
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In 11 games this season, Mayfield has completed 194-of-312 passes (62.2%) for 2,413 yards and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions for a rating of 89.8. His completion percentage is ranked 27th and his rating 20th among 33 qualifying quarterbacks. He has rushed 27 times for 93 yards (3.4 average) and a touchdown and taken 29 sacks. His injured shoulder forced him to sit out one game, a 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos on Oct. 21, when backup quarterback Case Keenum started for the Browns on “Thursday Night Football.”
Those 2021 numbers are very similar to the career statistics of Mayfield, whose starting NFL record is 29-29, including 1-1 in the playoffs. Mayfield's best season came in 2020, when he completed 62.8% of his passes, threw for 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions and posted a career-high rating of 95.9.
Warner compared Mayfield with the Chicago Bears' Andy Dalton and the Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins, quarterbacks who went to the playoffs with the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Football Team but never won a postseason game with those teams. The Bengals signed Dalton to a contract extension in 2014 and released him in 2020 with one year left on the deal. Washington twice franchise tagged Cousins before letting him walk in free agency in 2018.
“That's how I see [Mayfield],” Warner said. “I see him as a guy who's a good quarterback. You put all the pieces around him, and they'll go to the playoffs. Can they win a championship with him if you've got all the pieces around him? Probably, but can you get that? Can you make that work? So ultimately what you're going to have to ask is, 'Who is Baker,' and then, 'What's it going to cost us?'”
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Super Bowl winner and 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes sits atop the quarterback market with an average annual salary of $45 million after signing a 10-year extension with the Kansas City Chiefs last year. Drafted seventh overall in 2018, six spots after Mayfield, Pro Bowl quarterback Josh Allen is second at $43 million annually after receiving a six-year extension from the Buffalo Bills in August. The Dallas Cowboys signed two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott in March to a four-year, $140 million contract, and his average annual salary of $40 million ranks third at the position.
Mayfield does not have their resumes, but he has won one playoff game, the same number as Prescott and Lamar Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in 2018 and the NFL MVP in 2019 whose contract the Ravens have publicly vowed to work tirelessly to extend.
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“If I had to pay [Mayfield] tomorrow $140 million, I'm not doing it,” Warner said. “... Baker is definitely a starting quarterback in this league. It's just a matter of what level do you put him at.
“There's no slotting of guys, just going, 'Hey, Baker. We really like you. We think you're good, but we think you're this good.' If he's free, as a quarterback, you're like, 'Well, screw that. I can go somewhere else and get this much. I'll do that instead of taking less because you slotted me less than what the market value is at this particular time.'
“That's a whole other dilemma, and it's gotten skewed because of free agency and certain [quarterbacks teams] have been paid that aren't necessarily those [franchise] guys, either.”
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
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