CLEVELAND — With their 2021 season officially over, the Browns have set their sights on improving in 2022. And while there are many questions about roster turnover and potential new pieces to re-spark the offense, one thing seems to be certain at this point in time—Baker Mayfield will be the starting quarterback next season.
In a post-season press conference on Tuesday, Browns general manager Andrew Berry reflected on the past season and answered questions about what the organization's plans are to bounce back from this disappointing year. With all of the speculation and divisiveness among the fan base, the elephant in the room had to be addressed: Do the Browns expect to start Mayfield next season?
Berry was direct with his answer.
"We fully expect Baker to be our starter and bounce back," Berry said. "We're looking forward to Baker getting healthy in the offseason and then putting good work through the spring and with his coaches for having the type of season we know he can have moving forward."
Mayfield entered the season as the clear future of the franchise and ended it with a fan base split between those wanting to give him another year and those ready to restart the ever-exhausting search for a new quarterback.
It's true that Mayfield's accuracy declined severely, his decision-making seemed like the worst of his career and his mechanics suffered tremendously. But that's all without mentioning—not as an excuse, but as a matter of fact—the shoulder injury.
Mayfield tore his labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder in the second week of the season in the game against the Texans. He played through the injury, and the Browns won their next two games and were a score away from winning the third, and then the injury was made drastically worse in Week 6 against the Cardinals.
Determining how much of a factor the injury had on Mayfield's performance is something that the Browns will look at and evaluate based on his position and the injury itself.
"Every situation is unique based on the injury, obviously the role, that the player faces," Berry said. "I think the reality of it is, you get to late in the year and, really, everybody is fighting through something—certainly of different severity, I don't mean to minimize one injury versus another—but it really is on a case-by-case basis, and you try to take all of the information into account and make a fair judgment."
Berry said that while there hasn't been a contract extension for Mayfield yet, he's not concerned about the effects of playing him next season on an expiring contract and expects Mayfield to be able to turn the corner from this year, especially from his performances after the bye.
"In fairness, he misses two games, plays one game well, one game probably not so well, and then probably the third game that he played gets COVID, out two weeks, and is there the day of the game," Berry said. "Certainly those five games didn't go the way we hoped or anticipated, but we expect him to bounce back."
The Browns exercised Mayfield's fifth year option and—barring any trade or acquisition—he'll get another chance to prove himself in 2022.
"We've been with Baker for a long period at this time, at this point. We know his work ethic, we know his drive, we've seen him as a talented passer in this league, and we're looking forward to him getting healthy and continuing to make improvements," Berry said.
And while the Browns going out and getting another quarterback isn't out of the realm of possibilities (as Berry has made clear his job is to always be looking at options at every position), that's not how he said they would approach the offseason.
"We don't go looking and say, 'Hey, we're just going to target certain positions.' We scout and look at player availability as if we have an expansion team," Berry said. "So the way we go about additional competition or improving the talent base in the roster is largely, maybe not wholly, but largely independent of who's currently on the team."
Next season could be Mayfield's final chance to prove to the Browns that he's worth a long-term contract, but that pressure is nothing new to any player, coach or staff member working in the league, Berry said.
"I think the reality of it is, any of us who work in the NFL, every year is a prove it year," Berry said.
Mayfield will undergo surgery to repair his torn labrum in his left shoulder on Jan. 19, and then the rehab and work to prove himself in 2022 will truly begin.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.