CLEVELAND, Ohio 92.3 The Fan) – Let’s get this out of the way out of the gate: Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson were never going to come to Cleveland to rescue the Browns.
It was never in the cards.
While the final numbers and actual contract structure have yet to be revealed, Rodgers got exactly what he wanted from the Packers, aside from attention – respect in the form of a few Brinks trucks loaded with bags and bags of cash to make him the richest paid player in the league.
Wilson also got what he wanted – out of Seattle and on to Denver where he’ll be expected to do what Peyton Manning did – win another Super Bowl for the Broncos.
So, what on earth does this have to do with the Browns?
As with everything, fair or not, the conversation comes right back to Baker Mayfield.
The road to the Super Bowl through the AFC was a minefield to begin with, and life just got even harder on Kevin Stefanski and the Browns with Wilson now headed to the Mile High City. It might now be impossible, unless Andrew Berry can pull a rabbit out of his hat and the football gods smile upon Cleveland after shoveling dirt on the Browns for the last 58 years.
Let’s look at what the Browns must contend with.
Lamar Jackson with an NFL MVP already in the trophy case and Joe Burrow with a Super Bowl appearance are enough to contend within the AFC North alone.
The Browns should count their blessings they’re not in the AFC West which features Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Derek Carr and now Wilson.
We can’t forget about that Josh Allen kid in Buffalo either.
And this is where it all comes back to Mayfield and the question Berry must ask – can Mayfield outduel all these guys to take the Browns where they’ve never been?
This isn’t to pile on Mayfield, who returns this year from a surgically repaired torn left labrum looking to salvage his career in Cleveland and earn a second contract from the Browns.
Let’s not forget that the Browns couldn’t win a game without Mayfield prior to the 2018 NFL Draft – literally. Remember? They went 0-16 in 2017 and a combined 4-44 overall the previous three seasons without him.
It took three seasons and four coaches for Mayfield to win more games in a single season than any Browns team in the expansion era and end an 18-year playoff drought. He also helped to curb stomp the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Wild Card weekend, their first playoff win in a quarter century.
Mayfield is tied with Tim Couch for the fifth-most regular season starts in team history with 59. His 29 regular season wins are sixth-most and seven more than Couch had. Six more victories and Mayfield becomes a top-5 winning QB in Browns history.
But can Mayfield, whose best season statistically doesn’t compete with the league’s elite, lead the Browns deeper into January and ultimately into February?
That question could paint Berry, who has been steadfast in expressing his public support and commitment to Mayfield in 2022, into a corner because if he believes the answer to be no, finding a better option is easier said than done.
For those who say you can’t move on from Mayfield out of respect for what he did in 2020, the Rams reaped the benefits of doing the same thing without blinking an eye or thinking twice when they shipped Jared Goff, who led them to a Super Bowl, off to Detroit for Matthew Stafford, who just won them a Super Bowl less than a year after the trade was agreed to.
As of this column, Cleveland is not attractive to any quarterback. Why? To hand the ball off to Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt? Or dump the ball off to tight ends and running backs? Mayfield can and has been doing that.
The NFL is a prolific, vertical passing league, but either by choice or because of personnel, Stefanski’s passing offense last season was as exciting as watching wet paint dry.
To be fair, Stefanski and the Browns tried. They threw it over 30 times per game and they had 26 pass plays that went for 25 or more yards last season but they couldn’t score.
Jarvis Landry, the Browns top, and leading receiver appears headed for the cap chopping block. With all do respect to Anthony Schwartz and Donovan Peoples-Jones, the two youngsters aren’t getting anyone with Hall of Fame credentials excited about throwing them footballs.
That’s why you can bet all the draft picks that Wilson and Rodgers didn’t give the Browns a second thought.
The good news Tuesday is that Rodgers or Wilson did not end up in Pittsburgh. That would’ve been a disaster and the Browns might have been better off asking the league for another three-year hiatus.
We kid, but seriously.
How can the Browns compete in this arms race?