CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Baker Mayfield’s in-season progression from the first eight games to the final eight remains one of the most important and positive developments of the 2020 season.
It’s central to why the Browns were able to win 11 games, make the playoffs and advance in January for the first time since 1994.
Mayfield struggled to find his way during the first half of the season completing 61.4% of his passes for 1,514 yards with 15 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He was sacked 11 times and had a QB rating of 90.9.
Then came the bye week and his completion percentage increased to 63.9% during the second half of the year that saw him throw for 2,049 yards with 11 TDs, one pick and register a 100.1 rating.
“I think Baker definitely became more comfortable in what we were doing, but I would tell you that I became more comfortable with his skillset,” Stefanski said, “and going across the board I was learning about our players and our coaches were learning about our players throughout that beginning portion of the season. I just think it was the natural evolution of us an offense as we all learned about each other a little bit more.”
The expectation is that Mayfield will get even better in year two under Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
This is the first time since the Browns selected Mayfield first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft that he’ll enjoy the luxury of not having to spend his offseason introducing himself to a new coaching staff and learning another offense.
“I know he can continue to get better,” Stefanski said. “He’s another person who is eager to get better. He’s champing at the bit. And when he walks in this building, or we virtually see him next, we’ll make sure that we outline some things that he can improve upon. But I think you all know this about Baker — he works really, really, really hard at his craft. And I think that’s something, when you do that, you’ve got a chance.”
Missing out on Watt – Monday the Browns and other suiters for J.J. Watt found out he chose Arizona.
Predictably, Stefanski played it close to the vest when asked about any disappointment in not being able to land the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and five-time All pro defensive end.
“I would not get into specifics about any player,” Stefanski said. “I would just tell you Andrew [Berry] and his staff work really hard as they walk in this building every day to find avenues to improve our team. Whether that is the draft, free agency or trades, that is something that they work very hard on.”
The Browns have free agency and the draft to find an impact pass rusher to pair with Pro Bowler and All-Pro Myles Garrett.
“I can’t tell you if it is a strong class or weak class,” Stefanski said. “I would just tell you there are always going to be opportunities to improve our team. We know year to year the faces change – new guys come in and guys leave. That is just the nature of this beast. There are always going to be opportunities to improve the roster.”
Beckham rehab – Odell Beckham Jr. continues to rehab from a torn ACL suffered in Week 7 at Cincinnati on his own.
“I really don’t have much of an update, other than I know he’s doing great,” Stefanski said. “Our medical people are in contact with the guys he’s working out with. As you can imagine, he’s attacking this thing. So I know he’s doing great.”
While speculation about Beckham’s future with the Browns continues externally in the media, Stefanski expects him to be ready for training camp this summer.
“He’s, as you can imagine, very very committed to getting back to 100 percent,” Stefanski said. “He’s well on his way in his rehab. So, excited about his future.”
Njoku’s future – Tight end David Njoku enters the final year of his rookie contract this year after the $6 million option was picked up last April, but his future in Cleveland remains uncertain, a fact he’s not shied away from on social media.
“David is somebody who I respect and value, the production he gave us on the field and the teammate he is,” Stefanski said. “I know I have had a lot of conversations with a lot of players over the course of the season and over the course of many seasons so I will continue to have that dialogue with all of our guys to see where they are, but I am not aware of anything in particular with David.”
Njoku requested a trade last year and was third on the depth chart at his position for most of the 2020 season.
The Browns have the ability to trade or cut Njoku to free up additional cap room with no dead cap hit this offseason.
Joint practices – Stefanski is a proponent of joint practices during training camp and if they are allowed the Browns will schedule one this year.
“I would have to work through that to see how long the preseason is and see what the schedule looks like, but I do think there is value in that, if we can do it,” Stefanski said.
Stefanski scheduled camp work in Green Bay last summer leading up to a preseason game with the Packers before those plans were scrapped once the preseason was canceled due to COVID-19.