Baker Mayfield can’t shake drama, image of the ‘bad boy, the Johnny Manziel stuff’

MOBILE, Ala. – By the time Baker Mayfield was stepping off the field from his first Senior Bowl practice on Tuesday, the Oklahoma quarterback was already swimming against a rising tide of questions.

He had arrived late to the Senior Bowl due to a family matter, missing Tuesday morning’s shirtless catwalk for NFL teams – the infamous period when the physique of players is put on display while taking weights and measurements. Hours earlier, Mayfield had shot back at a fan site on Twitter, chastising the suggestion that any tardiness may have been an engineered effort to skirt some part of the evaluation process.

Baker Mayfield said a family health concern kept him from some Senior Bowl activities on Tuesday. (AP)
Baker Mayfield said a family health concern kept him from some Senior Bowl activities on Tuesday. (AP)

On the same day, Mayfield’s agent Jack Mills suggested to NFL Radio that the Sooners quarterback may see few reps in the actual Senior Bowl game, if any at all.

And this was supposed to be the week Mayfield left the drama behind. Now it’s hard to know for sure if he’s not setting the stage to skip the game.

“We’ll see,” Mayfield said when asked if he would take limited reps on game day or skip the game altogether. “We’ll see. I’ll address that later.”

To be fair, Mayfield showing up for Senior Bowl practice and then skipping the game wouldn’t be the end of the world to evaluators. It’s not the crotch grab against Kansas on national television. It’s not on par with his arrest for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. And it arguably doesn’t rise to the low-level trolling he has engaged in, from taunting fans or schools, engaging in Twitter exchanges, planting the Sooners’ flag in Ohio Stadium or wearing a “traitor” shirt to poke fun at his transfer out of Texas Tech.

Not playing this weekend would be interesting for the team executives who are always seeking full participation. Particularly from a player who professes to love football so much that he accepted a Senior Bowl invite as an opportunity to put all of his best attributes on display. That can be done in practice and interviews, but pulling out of the game itself would be an eyebrow-raiser.

Then again, if Mayfield skips the game because of family concerns, that’s something NFL teams will likely let slide. After his morning absence, Mayfield said an issue with his mother needed tending. He added that it’s an ongoing concern this week.

“Family matter – mom’s not doing too great,” Mayfield said. “Family first, always. Doesn’t matter what the situation is. I would never put myself before my mom. … It wasn’t about delaying measuring. I’ll measure tomorrow if it’s that big of a deal. I don’t care. Like I said, family first.”

Even for Mayfield’s critics, that’s fair. It’s early in the process and lost time can still be made up. That said, measuring in at the Senior Bowl is that big of a deal. If only because Mayfield’s shorter stature as a quarterback matters to some NFL teams and they want the full particulars of his physique. That’s all part of the process, and a lot of personnel men expect that if they make the trip down to Mobile to see a quarterback, he’s going to do his part in the evaluation dance. Especially when that guy is Mayfield, who has red flags that require a solid amount of probing.

At the very least, Mayfield has to know this much: He is navigating a minefield of his own design and implementation. One that questions if he’s too hot-headed or immature to be a dependable NFL starter. Or if he can resist his own emotions and shut out the inevitable noise and criticism that swirl around pro quarterbacks. The bottom line: There is a line of evaluators stretching to the Mobile city limits who need to be convinced that Baker Mayfield can simply be a better, more level-headed player.

As Mayfield said Tuesday, he’s trying to show teams “the type of guy I am.”

“Everybody wants to portray the bad boy, the Johnny Manziel stuff,” Mayfield said. “But I love the game of football. There’s no doubt about that. Emotional player – I’ll do everything it takes to win. I love being around my teammates. I love leading them and having that responsibility.”

As quarterbacks go in the draft process, that’s some boiler-plate messaging – loving football and teammates, and wanting responsibility. Figuring out how true it all is will be a part of this week’s practices, interviews and what Mayfield does if he plays in a game with unfamiliar teammates. But with Mayfield already having so much high-caliber film to dissect, that psychological evaluation is what teams are trying to get their hands on. And the reality is some of Mayfield’s critics are already predisposed to suspecting the worst.

So when it was announced that Mayfield was going to miss the weights and measurements portion of Tuesday and then scramble to make the first practice of the week, there was some hard eye-rolling. On Monday night, not everyone in the personnel community was aware of what kept Mayfield away. And Senior Bowl staffers didn’t seem entirely confident Mayfield would make Tuesday’s practice.

By Tuesday afternoon, the tizzy had been avoided. Mayfield was heading back to Mobile and would make practice. His weights and measures would be taken and distributed to teams. But a handful of executives were still curious about the amount of work Mayfield was going to do throughout the week – especially after his agent appeared uncertain about Mayfield’s participation in Saturday’s game. Some wondered whether Mayfield and his agent were setting the stage to pull out of the game completely by the end of the week.

Mayfield and his agent didn’t douse that suspicion Tuesday. And that alone is a bit dramatic. It isn’t great in a week he’s trying to put all the drama to bed. But this appears to be the book on Mayfield. Great film. Tremendously talented. Intriguing leadership.

All with a side of drama. And like everything else, that will also have to be weighed and measured.

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