The 38-6 loss in Baltimore followed by a quick turnaround for a prime-time visit from the Bengals raises an interesting question: Could Mayfield eventually be benched?
Every coach wants his own quarterback, and few coaches stumble into a job with a proven franchise player at the position. (Indeed, few teams with true franchise quarterbacks get their coaches fired.) So for new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and new Browns G.M. Andrew Berry, neither of whom picked Mayfield, the question becomes whether, at some point, they’ll pick someone else.
And this isn’t a simply “what happens in 2021?” question. Stefanski has on the roster Case Keenum. In their one year together with the Vikings, where Stefanski was the quarterbacks coach and Keenum became the starter after Sam Bradford’s knee finally gave out, the Vikings had a special season — capped by the Minneapolis Miracle. Surely, there’s a bond between Stefanski and Keenum, along with a familiarity far stronger than whatever Stefanski has with Mayfield.
So if Mayfield continues to preside over a sputtering passing game, if he continues to not stand out with one or more eye-popping attributes, and if he continues to not have the mobility to extend plays that are falling apart, it’s foolish to think Keenum won’t get a chance.
Think back to 2017. Keenum excelled at moving laterally away from pressure, resetting his feet, looking down the field, doing it all again (if need be), and eventually finding someone wide open. Imagine Odell Beckham Jr. as that guy who springs wide open and then bursts toward the goal line. Imagine Keenum and Beckham naturally developing the chemistry that Beckham and Mayfield have unsuccessfully been forcing for more than a year.
The first half of the season has games the Browns should win, starting with tonight’s game against the Bengals. If the Browns can pull it off, the question of the length of Mayfield’s leash won’t emerge. If the Browns lose, the clock may start ticking toward the possibility of Keenum getting a chance to do that which Mayfield has struggled to accomplish since the conclusion of his rookie season.