When the Cleveland Browns selected quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick of the 2018 draft, they initially said he would backup Tyrod Taylor.
That plan lasted until Week 3, when Mayfield went into the lineup after Taylor suffered a concussion against the New York Jets. All Mayfield did that Thursday night was help the Browns end their 19-game winless streak with a 21-17 victory over the Jets.
Mayfield has started the past six games. Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was Mayfield’s first outing since the Browns fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is the team’s interim coach, with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays.
Here’s a quick recap of Manning’s breakdown of Mayfield:
Been there, done that
Manning, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, knows how Mayfield feels being tossed into the lineup for a struggling team.
“Certainly not an ideal situation for a rookie quarterback, already having a new head coach and new offensive coordinator in the middle of a season,” Manning said. “First pick of the NFL draft, I know those shoes. People expect a lot. They expect you to come in and be this dominant player right away. There’s a reason you’re the first pick of the draft. You’re going to a team that has earned that first pick of the draft — you’re going to be the bad team.”
Manning’s Colts went 3-13 in his rookie season. He took every snap and threw what is still a rookie-record 28 interceptions.
Manning said Mayfield’s approach this rookie season has reminded him of “Brett Favre, for his enthusiasm and love for the game.”
Disregard the audible
Manning used an incompletion from the Browns loss to show how he would call a “dummy audible” or go in the huddle and tell the rest of the offense to “disregard the audible.”
It showed a side of Manning’s game that defenders said made him one of the all-time best. They had to try to determine at the line of scrimmage how much of Manning’s hand movements and cadence actually meant something and how much was just for show.
Talking about the “squirrel route” — the out, up and out — and how he doesn’t know why they call it a squirrel route, Manning showed his propensity to quote the movies he enjoys.
He used a reference to John Belushi’s character in “Animal House:” “Told the pledge in Animal House your nickname is Pinto, he said, ‘Why Pinto?’ and he said, ‘Why not?'”
“So it’s called squirrel. I don’t know why, but why not?”
Manning also stumbled a bit on “anticipatory” and offered, “I’m not even sure it’s a word,” but he made a quality point on how a Mayfield throw to Jarvis Landry required some patience.
The free hand
Manning pointed out Mayfield’s attention to detail with something Manning took great pride in during his career: making the play-action fake and the handoff look the same. Manning pointed out what defenders are looking for and explained why Mayfield’s was such a quality effort.
“I like the effort, and I like the discipline. Don’t be afraid, quarterbacks, to study good play-action quarterbacks,” he said.
I really like this throw
Manning also commended Mayfield’s footwork on a quick slant with a three-step drop out of the shotgun, something Manning remembered from the preseason.
Manning showed a drill for quarterbacks who want to learn how to get to the laces quickly on quick passes to the middle of the field.
About the nightmares
As he pointed out where Mayfield should have put the ball on a play, Manning also showed why, with his own interceptions by the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, as he made a point about the range of the game’s best safeties.
“I’m going to quit bringing their names up — I won’t be able to sleep tonight,” Manning said. “ … You got to respect these safeties and their ability to cover ground.”
Manning also gave a shout-out to daughter Mosley’s fantasy football team, “The New Sheriff,” because he gave a shout-out to son Marshall’s team last week.
Manning zeroed in on another piece of technique near and dear to his heart: discipline with your hands as a quarterback.
As he gave Mayfield props in the run game earlier with his technique, Manning pointed out the other side of the coin. Mayfield had his hands at his side until he raised them just before the snap. Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford used the move as a tell to time the snap, get to Mayfield and knock the ball out.
“They study your pre-snap mannerisms,” Manning said. “ … Let’s be sure we’re doing the same things.”
Lesson on clock management
Spoken like a true quarterback, Manning used a completion by Mayfield in the two-minute drive to show how the receiver should have handed the ball to the umpire instead of leaving it on the ground and how it would have saved valuable time for the offense.
He also expressed his disdain for wasted timeouts, especially timeouts by the defense “because you don’t know the call.”
He went on to say, “I’m just gonna say it. Those are really the offense’s timeouts, OK? I know you have three timeouts a half, but it’s really the offense that has the three timeouts, all right? That’s just the way it is.”
IT HAD BEEN years, and it felt like even longer, since that many people stayed to watch the end of a Cleveland Browns game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Trying to rush to an escalator, or elevator, was pointless. Almost everyone was caught in a slow-moving sea of orange and brown, a wave of thousands of jubilant fans, drunk on cheap beer or hope (or both), standing shoulder to shoulder and gradually inching their way down the labyrinth of ramps that wind their way to the stadium’s exit. Leaving a building long dubbed the “Factory of Sadness” had never been so difficult.
For the first time in 635 days, the Browns had won a football game, defeating the New York Jets 21-17 on a warm September night. A fan base that had been forced to accept misery as a regular part of its existence was now singing and clapping in unison, with such gusto that you could hear the chants echo off the buildings of downtown, and out into the waters of Lake Erie.
“I would say from end whistle to getting to my car took about 90 minutes because of how many people stuck around to the end of the game,” says Scott Sargent, a Northwest Ohio native who co-founded the Cleveland sports blog Waiting For Next Year, and who has been writing about Cleveland sports for more than a decade. “The entire time, people were doing the ‘Baker Mayfield‘ chant. I’ve never seen one player come into a game and instill hope in a franchise the way he did that night.”
Some fans simply wouldn’t leave the stadium. As Mayfield stayed on the field to do an extended interview with the NFL Network, a small group stuck around to continue the chant, occasionally switching it up and treating Mayfield like a deity.
You’re the sav-ior! (clap clap clap-clap-clap) You’re the sav-ior! (clap clap clap-clap-clap)
Mayfield rolled his eyes a bit when presented with a celebratory cake, but he played along. He knew what this win meant to the city. “It’s like one of those ‘Talladega Nights’ moments where I don’t know what to do with my hands,” he joked. “As corny as it sounds, that’s kind of how my whole life has gone. I’ve been a backup, and I’ve had to fight through some things.”
In that moment, you could forgive Browns fans for being unabashedly hopeful. In Mayfield, they suddenly had a player and a leader with enough charisma and swagger — and possibly skill — to wash away a decade of well-earned cynicism. “To put it into perspective, Baker Mayfield was drafted in every single local fantasy football league that I’m in, and he wasn’t even guaranteed to play a down this year,” Sargent says. “I think that’s indicative of the hope that he personified, that maybe this franchise was finally getting it right.”
All he had to do was keep performing miracles.
SIX WEEKS HAVE come and gone since that moment. The joy that was blossoming in Cleveland that night has, at best, wilted. Even the vendors hawking “Mayfield Mania” and “The Bake Show” T-shirts on Lakeside Avenue outside the stadium have felt the excitement wane. “We probably sold 3,000 T-shirts at $20 a shirt before the Ravens game,” DeAndre Stevens says. “It’s definitely slower since then. He’s the only player we got, but he can’t do it alone. It’s definitely frustrating.”
Lately Mayfield has been wearing the look of a man dropped into a long-running reality show, only to realize, a month in, that his hope to change the vibe would be in vain — that everyone has spent several years plotting against one another. The Browns have lost five of six, and the quarterback’s play since the victory against the Jets has been occasionally exciting, but mostly uneven. A behind-the-scenes power struggle between head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley resulted in both men getting fired. Owner Jimmy Haslam called the move a “rebooting” and insisted it was done to send a message that the franchise would not put up with infighting. General manager John Dorsey was quick to make it clear that the firings were made with Mayfield in mind, the franchise having already burned half a year making its young quarterback learn an offense that will be abandoned by spring.
It’s clear, even after only eight weeks, that Mayfield possesses leadership qualities that are rare, albeit hard to quantify. Any suggestion he was going to be Johnny Manziel 2.0 — another undersized, cocky quarterback from a powerhouse program who freelanced and partied his way out of football after being a first-round Browns draft pick — has proved to be the laziest of comparisons. Unlike Manziel, Mayfield has played primarily within the structure of Cleveland’s offense, throwing the ball in rhythm and through tight windows. (He’s completing 60 percent of his throws, even though the Browns are sixth in the NFL in dropped passes.) When he improvises, it’s generally because protection has broken down. In the locker room, he has earned the respect of the veterans without tempering his bravado, not an easy needle to thread for a young quarterback.
“I’ve been here through a lot of quarterbacks,” says offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, who has been with the Browns since 2014. “He’s the one guy who really does have that ‘it’ factor. It’s hard to explain what that is, exactly. Obviously, he’s a good player. But it starts with his competitiveness. Everything he does, he wants to be the best, but he puts in the work. I love him. No matter what’s going on in the game, he’s always in the huddle like, ‘All right, we’re scoring a touchdown this drive.’ It’s always good to have leaders, but to have your quarterback be that guy, that is special.”
When pressed by reporters early in the season as to why he and Jarvis Landry, Cleveland’s best wide receiver, weren’t connecting more often, Mayfield quickly tried to pin all the blame on his own throws.
“I’ll just be better for him,” Mayfield said. “I wasn’t the accurate quarterback they drafted me to be, plain and simple. I’ll fix that. It doesn’t matter on Jarvis’ end. He’s doing his job. I’ll be better at doing mine.”
Some of the best evidence of Mayfield’s potential, both as a player and leader, came in the Browns’ 45-42 overtime loss to the Raiders on Sept. 30 — Mayfield’s first career start. Miked up by NFL Films, his swagger was on display throughout the game, even during warm-ups, when he handed out a few high-fives to Raiders fans right before the national anthem.
“I have more Raider fans than they do,” Mayfield joked with Browns receiver Rashard Higgins. “I’ve got a damn rocket on my right arm!” he boasted after throwing a 49-yard touchdown to tight end Darren Fells over the middle.
But perhaps more telling was one of his pre-drive pep talks. “All right, listen,” Mayfield growled as the Browns took the field in the second half. “Nobody needs to step up. Just do our job the best we can. That’s all we need. We don’t need anything else. They’re not better than us. Do our f—ing job.”
When Nick Chubb broke through the line late in the fourth quarter for a 41-yard touchdown, giving the Browns a 42-34 lead with 4 minutes, 20 seconds to play, Mayfield sprinted to the end zone so he could hug his teammate, squealing like a teenage girl rushing the stage at an Ariana Grande concert.
“That’s what gets us going,” Browns tight end Orson Charles says. “A lot of people may not agree, but I love it. I don’t want a quarterback that’s timid. I played with Drew Brees, and Brees had a chip on his shoulder too, but he showed it differently. I’ll follow [Mayfield] wherever he wants to go. He can connect with anyone. I love that about him. He’s just like, ‘Hey, can you help us win? Then let’s go.'”
Mayfield’s ability to connect with people, to make them feel a part of something bigger than themselves, has always been one of his natural gifts, dating to his time at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas. His high school football coach, Hank Carter, often thinks back to a moment during Mayfield’s senior season, when the Lake Travis High marching band qualified for the state semifinals. “There is a tradition in Lake Travis, when an athletic team makes a state level of competition, the community will do a send-off,” Carter says. “The send-off for the band was on a Saturday morning, the day after we’d played a game. As you can imagine, high school boys are not particularly excited about showing up early in the morning to hold signs and cheer on the band. But not only was Baker down in front, he was leading the chants, the same type of chants you’ll see him still doing in huddles today. He made it feel really special for those kids. Most high school kids would think they were too cool for something like that, but Baker saw it as an opportunity to celebrate someone who had supported him.”
WHAT, THOUGH, ARE the limits of charisma and leadership? Can Mayfield’s personality truly make up for limitations in other areas? Brees gets plenty of praise for his leadership, but he’s also better at understanding when receivers are about to break into space than any quarterback to ever play. It’s not leadership or charisma that allows him to fit the ball into tiny windows, on time and under duress. It’s that he’s an athletic freak, maybe as much an NFL unicorn (in his own way) as Michael Vick was during his prime.
Can Mayfield really develop into a poor man’s version of Brees? There are times when he’ll make you a believer. Against the Steelers, he made a handful of Houdini escapes, including one where he somehow avoided getting sandwiched by Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt and pirouetted backward to find open space and zip the ball to Landry. But he struggled when forced to throw from within the pocket, averaging just 5.0 yards per completion. It was after that loss that Jackson and Haley were fired.
“He’s not as accurate as I expected him to be — just a couple of throws that aren’t quite as pinpoint as what you saw at Oklahoma,” one front-office executive says. “But I chalk that up to growing pains and everything he’s got going on around him. It’s clear his teammates respond to him, and early on you saw the eye-opening plays that made them believe he was the guy. I’m interested to see how he handles the coaching changes and whether we see progress the rest of the year, or if he starts to look overwhelmed.”
It seems apparent already that he’s not Patrick Mahomes, the man with whom he shared a pregame hug Sunday before Mahomes roasted the Browns, throwing for 375 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-21 Chiefs victory. And it seems clear Mayfield is not Carson Wentz, who finished third in the NFL MVP vote last season despite missing three games because of a knee injury. The Browns could have had either player in consecutive drafts but chose instead to focus on defense.
Was Mayfield, plus defensive end Myles Garrett (the No. 1 pick in 2017), a better gamble than Mahomes alone? Were the 11 picks they got as a result of their trade with the Eagles better than picking Wentz? At this point, the answer doesn’t matter. The Browns have to make it work, whether or not they develop doubts about Mayfield’s long-term potential. The pressure on the franchise to get it right this time is enormous.
At the very least, the fan base knows Mayfield will be the quarterback in 2019, a rare piece of continuity for a franchise that hasn’t had a quarterback start at least 12 games in back-to-back seasons since Tim Couch did it in 2001 and 2002.
“As a fan, I think you become numb to it after a while, especially when you draft or have guys under center you know aren’t going to be there for the long haul,” Sargent says. “Cody Kessler was not selected to be the quarterback of the future. Mike Holmgren might have sworn by him, but no one paying for tickets, or merchandise, or affording their 3½ hours on Sunday, thought that was going to be the case. When the winningest quarterback in your stadium since the resurrection of the franchise is Ben Roethlisberger, you know your team hasn’t exactly been a stable one at the quarterback position.”
There is a sense, within league circles, that the Browns job is more attractive to potential head coaches than it initially appears, despite the constant dysfunction. Observers are quick to draw parallels between the Browns under Jackson and the Los Angeles Rams in their final season under Jeff Fisher. Jared Goff looked lost as a rookie, but after being paired with Sean McVay, he looks like an MVP candidate. It might be the reason former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said this week Cleveland’s was the only job he’d consider coming out of retirement to take.
Mayfield, for his part, has been reticent to do anything that might make it look as if he’s eager to get attention, primarily limiting his interactions with the media to his weekly news conference. Approached after the Browns lost in overtime to Tampa Bay and asked if he’d be open to sitting down for an interview, Mayfield was clearly annoyed.
“It’s just a really inappropriate time for you to be asking me about that right now,” Mayfield said, still fuming from the loss as he walked to the team bus.
That strain of competitive rage simmers in everything Mayfield does, and it’s one reason the Browns remain hopeful this is the perfect match: underdog franchise and perpetually aggrieved player. Bitonio couldn’t help but smile during one of the practices in the week leading up to the Browns’ game against Kansas City when, during a “seven shot” drill — where the offense has seven chances to get into the end zone — a shoving match broke out between a pair of burly lineman. As it got more heated, several other players joined the scuffle.
“Most quarterbacks stay out of that stuff, but Baker jumps right into the heart of it,” Bitonio says. “He’s throwing guys off, he’s getting up in guys’ faces. Well, if your quarterback goes into a fight, you can’t let him go in there unsupervised, so now everybody has to jump in. It’s all in good fun. But if he has your back like that, you know you have to have his back on the field.
“Football is such a unique melting pot, because you have 53 guys from completely different backgrounds. When you have a quarterback who connects with everybody? That’s pretty special. He’s been good for us, man. Now we need to protect him, and keep him out there as long as we can.”
General manager John Dorsey will lead the search for the next Cleveland Browns coach, a team spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
The next coach will replace Hue Jackson, who was fired Oct. 29, one day after a loss in Pittsburgh. The final decision on selecting the coach will be made by Dorsey and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, with Dorsey’s recommendation weighing heavily.
The decision is significant because Jimmy and Dee Haslam led the search to hire Jackson, and Haslam assisted Joe Banner in the search to hire Mike Pettine and Rob Chudzinski. For a variety of reasons, chiefly not enough wins, none of the coaches lasted three years.
Dorsey’s experience in scouting and player personnel give him strong contacts throughout the NFL and in college football. He has not commented yet on how he might go about the search.
In a best-case scenario, the right coach could bring the team together for future success.
The team’s future organizational structure after the new hire has yet to be determined. Haslam previously had it where the coach and GM/VP reported to him. Having the coach report to Dorsey would be an option.
Kirksey, one of the team’s captains, hurt his hamstring in Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. Gaines incurred his second concussion in three weeks in the same game.
The Browns are feeling the brunt of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Starting cornerback Terrance Mitchell is on injured reserve with a broken wrist; he could return for the final four games.
Cornerback Denzel Ward injured his hip and had to leave the game against Kansas City; his status will be clarified when the injury report is released.
At linebacker, Joe Schobert is still recovering from a hamstring injury that sidelined him in a loss to the Chargers Oct. 14. He has missed the past three games.
After a fast start, the Browns’ defense has dropped in almost every league ranking as the record has gone from 2-2-1 to 2-6-1. The Browns rank 31st in total defense, 27th in passing yards per game, 32nd in rushing yards per game and 28th in points per game. The Browns signed defensive back Juston Burris off the Jets’ practice squad.
“Cleveland is the only job I would consider,” said Arians, who was in Cleveland with CBS as part of the broadcast team for Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Browns game.
Arians, 66, also touted his former boss with the Indianapolis Colts as a possibility for Browns general manager John Dorsey to consider.
“My guy would be Chuck Pagano,” Arians told the newspaper.
Arians was Pagano’s offensive coordinator with the Colts in 2012 and then took over as interim coach that season when Pagano left to undergo treatment for leukemia. He went 9-3 and became the first interim coach to win Coach of the Year. Pagano, 58, led the Colts to the playoffs in both 2013 and ’14 but was fired by the team after finishing 4-12 in 2017.
He joined the Cardinals in 2013 and won his second Coach of the Year award in 2014 after leading Arizona to an 11-5 record. The Cardinals were 13-3 in 2015 and reached the NFC Championship Game. Including playoffs, he finished 50-32-1 as the Cardinals’ coach.
Arians has previously been a coach with the Browns, serving as offensive coordinator from the 2001-04 seasons. He also interviewed for the Browns’ head coaching vacancy in 2013 but the team hired Rob Chudzinski instead.
Arians retired from coaching in January, citing his family as the reason for his decision. He later was hired by CBS Sports to be an analyst.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is currently the Browns’ interim coach after the team fired Hue Jackson last week. The Browns are in last place in the AFC North with a 2-6-1 record but are likely to draw interest from several candidates due to the presence of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, taken No. 1 overall in this year’s draft, and a strong defense that includes 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett and rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, taken No. 4 overall in 2018.
CLEVELAND — As another season disintegrates, receiver Jarvis Landry stood in the Cleveland Browns locker room and found no positives in a 37-21 defeat.
“We lost,” Landry said after the Browns fell to Kansas City. “What steps did we take?”
Down the hallway in an interview room, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield had a slightly different take.
“Offensively I think there was a lot more good in this game than we had in the past,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield was not shrugging off a loss. There also is no dissension between quarterback and receiver. But those two statements do accurately reflect where the Cleveland Browns are in a 2-6-1 season.
Landry is in his fifth season; he came to the Browns expecting to be part of an immediate turnaround. He’s watched his team lose four in a row, and he’s lived through the oh-so-Browns experience of a coach firing — except his came along with the offensive coordinator getting fired on the same day, eight games into the season.
“Did we win?” Landry said when asked about improvements by the offense.
“Then it doesn’t matter,” he said.
For Mayfield, a rookie quarterback counted on to be the future, every play matters, even if it’s in a one-sided loss. And every game matters because it’s a chance for growth. In throwing for two touchdowns and 297 yards, Mayfield said he thought “there was a lot to build on.”
“But there’s obviously so much more room for improvement,” he added.
For positives, Mayfield pointed at left tackle Greg Robinson starting his first game in Cleveland and “playing well.” He said the offense had two touchdowns and a field goal in the first half. He said the approach by new coordinator Freddie Kitchens was to focus on what the offense does well.
That put Duke Johnson back in the gameplan — at long last — and led to Johnson scoring two touchdowns. It allowed Mayfield to come three shy of 300 yards passing and it allowed Nick Chubb to run for 85 yards.
These may be reaches in a game when the Chiefs scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions and controlled the game from the outset. But in Browns World, when a season start to fall apart it falls apart in a hurry. And this one is crumbling.
So the outlook becomes any positive in a storm.
“You have to find those positives,” Mayfield said. “You have to build on it to where eventually the positives outweigh the negatives and you are not dealing with losses, you are dealing with wins. And then you are trying to eliminate the negative stuff.
“Right now we are at a point where we need to keep getting better at what we are good at and go from there.”
With their franchise quarterback — a player that fired coach Hue Jackson said last week can be a “sensational” player — anything positive matters, even if they come against one of the league’s worst pass defenses.
The 297 yards were the most for him in a game since he had 342 in the overtime win over Baltimore on Oct. 7. The 42 attempts were the fourth time this season he’s topped 40. The 69 percent completion rate was the best in a game he’s started, the 95.0 rating, the second best.
For his rookie season, on a losing team, he has 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a rating of 81.5 (with 265 attempts).
The significance: Only two Browns quarterbacks since 1999 have had a higher passer rating in a season when they threw at least 250 passes — Josh McCown in 2015 (93.3 with 292 attempts) and Derek Anderson in 2007 (82.5 with 527 attempts). Make the minimum passes 100 and Mayfield’s passer rating would rank sixth.
Take the numbers for what they are. The Browns have not exactly trotted out standouts at the position since 1999; 30 different players have started. And Mayfield’s rating is just slightly better than Johnny Manziel and behind Cody Kessler.
But in a season where wins will be tough to find, what matters is Mayfield stays upright, mentally healthy and reasonably effective — and that he learns.
The home fans deserve better, but that’s what the Browns are down to in yet another season heading toward a miserable finish.
The upper lip will stay firmly strong, but if Mayfield comes out of this season established, confident and healthy, the Browns can at least point to that as something accomplished in a long and dreary 2018.
BEREA, Ohio — Hue Jackson did not agree with Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s statement that “internal discord” led to the firing of Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday.
“I don’t really think it was truly just about internal discord,” Jackson said Friday on ESPN’s First Take. “I think that’s a strong word. I think you have disagreements with coaches. With Todd, with [defensive coordinator] Gregg Williams, with Amos Jones, who’s also the special-teams coordinator. I don’t think that’s internal discord.”
To what, then, did Jackson attribute losing his job eight games into his third season with the Browns?
“I think when you stop and look at it, it’s truly, really about Baker Mayfield,” Jackson said. “I think they want to do everything they can to put him in the situation … I mean, you got the first pick in the draft — who I think is going to be a franchise quarterback, who’s going to be a sensational player — and he’s not playing as well.
“So again, here is the perfect storm to move forward and move on.”
The perfect storm was brought on by the record and Jackson’s belief that Mayfield would have been better served in a different style of offense.
Jackson was fired one day after a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers dropped the Browns to 2-5-1. He was brought back for 2018 after going 1-15 and 0-16 his first two seasons because Haslam believed the personnel he was given in 2016 and ’17 impeded winning.
“Bottom line, let’s just be clear, we didn’t win enough,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, when you look at it, we didn’t win enough games. No matter how you cut it, regardless of what they said or how they said it, you gotta win enough games.
“You know, these jobs, there’s 32 of them and I was fortunate and blessed by Dee [Haslam] and Jimmy to have an opportunity to be one of 32. But at the end of the day, when you look at it, you gotta win enough games and we didn’t.”
Jackson said the one thing he would do differently is keep control of the offense going into this season.
“That’s what I got hired for,” Jackson said. “If you’re going to go out, you go out doing the things that you know and that you truly believe in.”
Jackson said he made the Haley hire and gave him control over the offense and playcalling.
But as he watched the season unfold, Jackson grew to believe that Mayfield should have been running an offense similar to the one he ran at Oklahoma, which was based on playing fast with quick throws — more slants, more outs, more fast passing and fewer seven-stop drops.
“I think you have to go back to Oklahoma and use all the concepts that made him be who he was, the first pick in the draft,” Jackson said. “I think you do everything you can to play the way he plays, and you build your offensive football team and your system to his liking. Because that’s going to help him be the best version of him.”
After saying a week earlier that he wanted to “help” with the offense, Jackson said he decided he was going to step in and take a more active role. He said after the most recent loss that he was going to talk to Haslam and general manager John Dorsey about taking over the offense.
Sources had said he was even going to see if he could fire Haley.
Instead, at the beginning of the meeting with Haslam and Dorsey, Jackson was told he was losing his job. Haley was fired about an hour later.
“I think we played a traditional style of football,” Jackson said. “And that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with that. But again, the question that was asked of me is, ‘What would you do with Baker?’
“I think that’s where I think the rubber meets the road. You have to do everything you can to make him successful. And if you’re going to do that, then you go back and do the things that made you draft him as the first pick in the draft.”
Asked why he didn’t just take control because he was the head coach, Jackson said the Browns’ system — as set up by Haslam — did not work that way.
“Because at the end of the day we’re still a collaborative group,” Jackson said. “I think the owner and the GM are also involved in that. Obviously that’s how we have our organization set up at the time, and that was the way we were going to go about it.
“Any decisions that I made that way, there is nothing that I wouldn’t have not run by Jimmy Haslam and John Dorsey.”
Jackson does not hide from his overall 11-44-1 record as a coach in Oakland and Cleveland.
“I hope the next opportunity for me is to go back and be a coordinator, first and foremost,” he said. “Go back and put my name back to where it should be, among some of the best playcallers in this league, and then to move forward from there. And whatever happens from there, obviously that’s going to be God’s decision as we move forward.”
BEREA, Ohio — Baker Mayfield is well aware he may be relied upon as the guy to pull the Cleveland Browns through the aftermath of their midseason coaching change.
“Bring it on,” the rookie quarterback said Wednesday.
How the Browns deal with the adversity they face following the firing of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will reveal the team’s character, Mayfield said.
“With all the distractions, we will see what kind of men we have in this room. Not what kind of team that we have but what kind of men can handle a distraction the right way, can come together and focus on doing their job and doing it at a high level against a great team [the Kansas City Chiefs] come Sunday,” Mayfield said.
Gregg Williams will take over as the Browns’ interim coach, and Freddie Kitchens will be the interim offensive coordinator. Mayfield called the sudden changes his “welcome-to-the-business moment.”
“For me, it is definitely something new,” he said. “It caught me off guard, but [we] have to roll with the punches. Whatever happens, happens. We have to stick together as a team. We have to use this as something to make us come together. Obviously, it could be a huge distraction or it could be something that could bring this locker room even closer.”
Like many Browns quarterbacks before him, Mayfield has had a tumultuous rookie season. He did not start the first three games, then relieved Tyrod Taylor in Week 3 and led the Browns to a 21-17 win over the Jets, marking their first victory since December 2016.
An overtime victory over Baltimore in Week 5 lifted the Browns to 2-2-1, but the bottom dropped out soon after, as they lost three in a row — including a 33-18 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday that cost Jackson and Haley their jobs for what owner Jimmy Haslam said was “internal discord.”
“For me, it being the first time I have experienced something like that midseason, was surprising on all fronts,” Mayfield said. “Specifically, it does not really matter if it was one or both. It was just surprising to me. I have never gone through anything like that.”
Mayfield said Williams’ first message to the team was “to stick together.”
“It is what it is, but we have to push forward,” Mayfield said. “We have a game this week, and that is the important part. We can either use it as an excuse to throw in the towel or to rise up and come together as a team.”
The first is the quarterback. The drafting of Baker Mayfield and his play have provided reason to believe he will be the guy going forward. He’s had good moments and he’s had rookie struggles, but his overall approach, effort, competitiveness and football smarts give reason to believe in his future.
Compare the presence of Mayfield on the roster to the quarterbacks past new Cleveland coaches inherited or acquired. Rome Crennel had Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. Eric Mangini had Brady Quinn, Anderson, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy. Pat Shurmur had Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden. Rob Chudzinski had Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell. Mike Pettine had Hoyer, Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown. And Jackson had Robert Griffin III, McCown, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan before the drafting of Mayfield.
With Mayfield, the next coach has more certainty, and talent. He also has a guy Drew Brees said can be better than he (Brees) has been.
That quarterback is the most important factor for any coach taking a job.
Second is the Browns roster has talent, much of it young. On offense, running back Nick Chubb played well enough to force a Carlos Hyde trade. Jarvis Landry will be one of the receivers, joined by Antonio Callaway, who had one of his better overall games in Pittsburgh.
None of the defensive players are past their fourth year in the league.
Those young players were supplemented in the offseason by the roster overhaul of general manager John Dorsey, who transformed 60 percent of the roster via trades and free agent signings.
Dorsey also will have a boatload of salary cap room to work with in the next offseason as well, the third reason this job is attractive.
ESPN’s Roster Management System states the Browns have $59 million in salary cap space. That number is fluid, but Dorsey should have plenty of cap space to add pieces to the team.
Chris Mortenson cites the development of Browns QB Baker Mayfield as a potential reason for the firing of Todd Haley.
The last reason this job is attractive: Dorsey and the front office he’s built.
Dorsey is a Ron Wolf guy, a man who treats people with respect but a guy who will not tolerate unnecessary drama (witness Jackson and Todd Haley both being let go on the same day). He’s also an aggressive guy who will do all he can to improve a team.
The front office that he built includes Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf, like Dorsey former Packers front office types whose beliefs are rooted in scouting and personnel. They join holdover Andrew Berry to give any new hire an experienced, credible front office.
The Browns job in the past has been a leftover of sorts, the job folks did not want to take.
That isn’t true with this opening.
This is a job a lot of coaches will want to pursue.
BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said the firing of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley does not mean the team is giving up on this season.
“This is not a throwing in of the towel,” Haslam said Monday afternoon. “It is a rebooting, if you will, an opportunity to give them a fresh start these last eight games.”
Haslam and general manager John Dorsey said the Browns’ focus is on the final eight games, and trying to help interim coach Gregg Williams win as many as he can.
“I think that we put the organization in a better place today than it was yesterday moving forward,” Haslam said. “And we are comfortable with the decision.”
Haslam declined to get into details about the moves, other than one revealing statement.
“I think the message today is we’re not going to put up with internal discord,” Haslam said. “That we want people who are collaborative and work together.”
That discord centered on the direction of the offense under Haley, with Jackson saying he would “help” while behind the scenes pondering whether to fire Haley. The Browns got rid of both.
“I do not know if it does a lot of good to go back and look at the past,” Haslam said. “I think that the actions and decisions we made today speak for themselves.”
Jackson is the fourth coach Haslam has fired since 2012 (including Pat Shurmur, the coach when he took over). Williams will be the team’s fifth coach, the next hire the sixth.
Since it was announced Haslam would buy the team before the 2012 season, the Browns have gone 22-81-1.
Haslam has dealt with folks not working well together in the past — Jackson and Sashi Brown, Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer, and Rob Chudzinski and Mike Lombardi.
“I will accept the blame because, ultimately, it is the person at the head of the ship,” Haslam said. “I will take the blame as ownership. I can’t explain it more than that. We have had different situations with different people. I know that it is something that we are not going to tolerate moving forward.”
Haslam would not go into detail about the process for hiring the Browns’ next coach. He has conducted searches that led to the hiring of Chudzinski, Pettine and Haslam. It will be interesting to see if he puts that job in Dorsey’s hands. Haslam said the structure of the team organizationally will not change — Dorsey and Williams will report to the owner.
“Hue, John and I worked together well, and I would expect the same with Gregg,” Haslam said.
The Browns have made the development of quarterback Baker Mayfield a priority. Mayfield, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, was caught in the middle with Jackson and Haley.
“He is a young man,” Dorsey said of his quarterback. “He has seen a lot of complex defenses. He wants to win in the worst way. Is the confidence there? Yes, it is still there. That is the winning mindset that he brings to the table that you really so much admire in him.
“He will grow and develop even farther as we move along here. Our job is to create that environment moving forward to help the player.”
Williams was coach of the Bills from 2001 through 2003, when he went 17-31. He has 20 years of NFL coaching experience but was suspended for the entire 2012 season for his role in the New Orleans Saintsbounty issue. Williams said when he was hired that he and commissioner Roger Goodell are close and have had good discussions about the suspension. Williams will remain the Browns’ defensive coordinator.
Freddie Kitchens moves from assistant head coach and running backs coach to offensive coordinator. He will call plays in a regular-season game for the first time in his 13 seasons in the NFL, though Dorsey did point out that Kitchens called the plays in the team’s preseason finale against Detroit.
The Browns started this season 2-2-1, but have lost three straight and struggled badly in a 33-18 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Jackson’s tenure with the Browns includes a winless 2017 season and an overall record of 3-36-1.
On Sunday, the Browns will host the 7-1 Chiefs, the NFL’s highest-scoring team.
“I think that right now the best situation in what we are attempting to do here now is create the best environment moving forward not only for the players but for the coaching staff, as well,” Dorsey said. “That is what our sole focus is on right now is the second half of the 2018 season moving forward.”