FORT WORTH, Texas — Just as Baker Mayfield is not the second coming of Johnny Manziel, he does look like the other pre-draft comparisons of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
Last season, Baker played, and acted, like a bust. This season he looks like a pro, but a pro who still needs a lot of help, and is treated more like a bus driver.
Mayfield comes back to Texas on Sunday to play the stadium where he enjoyed the highs of winning Big 12 conference title games, and is firmly entrenched (stuck?) as the starting QB of the Cleveland Browns.
The Dallas Cowboys host a Browns team that has a winning record for the first time in Mayfield’s pro career. This is as deep into a season the Browns (2-1) have had a winning record since 2014. The Browns last had a winning season in 2007.
Alas, Baker is 25, in his third year in the NFL with 32 starts and no more excuses. As inept as the Browns have been, they have thrown everything in his corner to make it work.
Baker has one year remaining on his contract, and if he’s going to prove he’s as good as he struts, and thinks, this is his chance.
He was drafted No. 1 overall into a dysfunctional mess in Cleveland, and expected to turn one of the worst franchises in professional sports into a winning team.
The last guy to do something similar was Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts; at the time of his arrival in 1998 they were finally starting to clean up what previously had been an embarrassment to football.
With the possible exception of Sam Darnold going to the New York Jets, no current young quarterback was drafted into a worse situation more than Baker.
Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they have had two winning seasons, and are 0-1 in the playoffs.
Since the Browns selected the former Oklahoma quarterback with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, he has played for four different head coaches and had three different play callers.
What Baker defenders don’t want to admit is that he is the reason for some of that turnover. To a degree.
If he plays better last season, some of this turnover does not occur.
One the problems is turnovers. Since 2018, no QB in the NFL other than Jameis Winston has given away the ball more than Mayfield.
He can throw a pretty ball, but sometimes the accuracy is not there, and neither is the decision making.
Baker was awful last year when was sacked 40 times and threw 21 interceptions. A Browns team that was a cute pick to make the playoffs finished 6-10, and the coaching staff was canned.
The Browns hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski in the offseason to be their head coach with one purpose: Save Baker.
“I can tell you he has a great sense of urgency. He wants to be great,” Stefanski told me this week. “He wants this team to be great. He’s bought into every single thing we’ve asked him to do. He’s done it all.”
Through three games, the Browns are 2-1 and have defeated two bad teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Whatevers.
Baker has been decent; five touchdown passes, two picks, only four sacks. The Browns are not asking him to be Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson — because he’s not.
Unlike last season, Cleveland is not asking Mayfield to win games, and thus far have taken the ball out of his hands. They average 170 rushing yards per game; QBs look good when they don’t have to throw the ball.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy has followed Mayfield since he entered the league, and does see a difference.
“He’s playing in two different offenses,” McCarthy said on Friday comparing Baker from 2019 to 2020. “The starting point is running the football is obviously there. This group has more run concepts.
“I think the biggest change I’ve seen on Baker is his change in his footwork. I believe in the footwork they are using now. I think it will benefit him as he moves forward.”
Now in his third season, Baker Mayfield has shown enough we know he’s not Johnny Manziel, any more than he is Drew Brees or Russell Wilson.
He’s Baker Mayfield, which he now must show if that’s enough to do the impossible: Make the Cleveland Browns a winner.
©2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram