Baker Mayfield's nightmare of the 2021 season is over. The 26-year-old Cleveland Browns quarterback will undergo shoulder surgery and miss the team's final game. The former No. 1 overall pick had a forgettable campaign and now faces an uncertain future. Without a long-term deal in hand, he'll have one season to prove he belongs as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Mayfield will enter the final season of his five-year rookie deal in 2022. He's set to make $18.9 million. Given how poor he played in 2021, it's unlikely another team would trade for him at that price. That makes it almost certain he'll be back in Cleveland fighting for his starting job.
In 14 games this season, Mayfield only completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards, averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and had 17 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. His passer rating (83.1) ranks 27th among eligible quarterbacks, and his QBR (35.3) ranks 26th. Incidentally, Mayfield's top trait coming out of Oklahoma was his accuracy. In his fourth NFL season, he ranked 28th in completion percentage. Not a great sign.
Here is where we note that Mayfield was injured for most of the season. He tore the labrum in his left shoulder in Week 2, while also suffering a fracture to his humerus bone. A knee contusion also knocked him out of a Week 10 matchup with the Patriots. Mayfield also struggled with some in-game bumps and bruises along the way. There's absolutely no questioning his toughness after what he played through this season.
The issue here is Mayfield and the Browns failed to move forward as a franchise this season. They went 11-5 in 2020 and won a playoff game. This season they've taken a major step back, dropping to 7-9 and occupying last place in the AFC North. Mayfield simply might not be the man to lead the franchise forward.
The Oklahoma product was solid in 2020 as he led Cleveland to the postseason. He completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 3,563 yards, averaged 7.3 yards per attempt and had 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He finished 15th in passer rating (95.9) and 10th in QBR (65.5). No one would have confused him with an All-Pro, but he made strides. It feels like all of that progress was lost this season.
Mayfield is getting his shoulder fixed and should enter training camp fully healthy. He'll have one last chance to prove he's an NFL starting quarterback. If he can't bounce back in a big way next season, he'll likely be ticketed for backup duty in the future.
Once thought to be the savior of Cleveland, Mayfield now has to save his own career. He's got a year to do it and all the pressure in the world on his soon-to-be surgically repaired shoulders. It will be fascinating to see how he responds.