ARLINGTON, Texas — Baker Mayfield is going to the Cleveland Browns not as the long-overdue savior of a moribund football franchise, but as a student.
That’s what Browns general manager John Dorsey and head coach Hue Jackson expect of their new No. 1 draft pick. Mayfield operated offenses at two different schools in college and mastered one so well he took home the Heisman Trophy.
But in Cleveland, even the ultra-confident Mayfield is merely a rookie.
“I’ve always thought for a young man’s development, in Baker’s case, why not have a chance to sit back and see how the game of professional football is played?” Dorsey said Thursday night at the team’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio. “It’s a very complicated game. So why not learn from some of those veterans in that room, understand the complexities of the defense, watch the game slow down, give him a chance to actually see what this game of football’s actually about? Because it’s hard to make that transition, step right in there and do that.
“So to give him the best chance of success … give him some time to grow in this thing.”
The Browns acquired seven-year veteran Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo during the offseason, and their backup is 10-year journeyman Drew Stanton.
Mayfield was the best college player in the nation at Oklahoma, but he has a lot to learn about the NFL.
“I think we all know heading into this that Tyrod Taylor’s gonna be our starting quarterback, first and foremost,” Jackson said. “So let’s make sure we understand that. And it’s understood by Baker that he needs to come in here and learn the National Football League game. He’s gonna come in here and learn from Tyrod and learn from Drew and I think that’s really important. But know we will … do everything to put him in the best position — when he plays — to have success.”
Cleveland needs immediate help, all over the field. In 2016, the Browns were 1-15. Last year, they became just the second NFL franchise to go 0-16. That’s the worst two-year stretch in NFL history. Mayfield may get plenty of on-the-job training, and of course he wants it all and he wants it now. But learning the NFL can be like drinking from a firehose. If Mayfield is patient (along with the Ohio media and all those fans in the Dawg Pound), success will come to him.
And OU fans can take all of Cleveland’s comments about their favorite QB at face value, but both Jackson and Dorsey talked about being patient with Mayfield, too, rather than rushing him into action.
“He gets it,” Jackson said. “He wants to compete. And we would never stop a player from competing. But … let’s be honest in this room. We’ve been through playing young quarterbacks here in Cleveland the last two years, and putting ‘em in some tough situations. So I think it’s really important that he understands when he’s ready to play, he’ll play.
“But it’s tough for a guy, playing this division, in the National Football League, in our system. … We have a veteran player in Tyrod Taylor and another veteran in Drew Stanton, so this young man can come in and learn the game and not feel like he has to walk out there and be everything right away, that he can learn to play in the National Football League — before he plays.”
Dorsey said Mayfield was crying real tears when he called the quarterback at his home in Austin, Texas (Mayfield skipped the formal draft festivities at AT&T Stadium, choosing instead to be with family), and said the club made a “unanimous” determination in meetings Monday and Tuesday that Mayfield would be their choice at No. 1.
Mayfield, who has already signed various endorsement deals with Nike, Bose and other properties, can expect to command a four- or five-year contract in excess of $30 million, of which more than $20 million will be guaranteed, per last year’s first-round salary slot, per Forbes Magazine.
Beyond just money and draft investment, though, Dorsey expressed a desire to make a lasting, long-term commitment to Mayfield.
“To make this guy the best, long term — and that’s what he’s thinking about — you have to teach him, and he understands, to go and play long term in the National Football League, understand the game of football first,” Dorsey said.
“I’ve always said, in college, you’re gonna play the game. In the pros, you learn the game of football.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.