Browns enter pivotal bye week with Baker Mayfield taking more flak from a teammate’s father

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·NFL columnist
·5 min read
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  • Cleveland Browns
    Cleveland Browns
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  • Baker Mayfield
    Baker Mayfield
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  • Kareem Hunt
    Kareem Hunt
    American football running back

In the kind of drama that harkens back to an era the Cleveland Browns would rather leave behind, the social media accounts of parents continues to be a cloud that just won’t go away for the franchise. Which means the bye week couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

First it was Odell Beckham Jr.’s father posting lowlights of Baker Mayfield at the trade deadline, then following up with criticism of the quarterback as he seemingly tried to help get his wideout son released from the team. Now it’s the father of running back Kareem Hunt, who less than one month after the ridicule from Beckham Sr. has taken to social media in a since-deleted Facebook post to add another tire to the fire around Mayfield. 

But rather than pointing out how the play of the quarterback is impacting his son, Hunt Sr. echoed a concern from the fan base that is building with each passing week: how Mayfield’s health is impacting his effectiveness.

“Now I’m getting people on my Facebook saying I’m being like obj Daddy and I’m not I’m stating facts on football and what we see he’s limping he’s scared to throw the ball and they know he’s hurt they going to keep listening but if people don’t like what I’m saying unfriend me I’m not jeopardizing nothing I got a right to speak I ain’t posting no videos have a good day go Browns hopefully”

This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison to the kerfuffle sparked by Beckham Jr.’s father — since there’s no evidence Hunt wants off the team, unlike Beckham Jr. — but it’s just another splash of drama that raises questions about Mayfield’s play and how it’s impacting the team. So much so that questions about whether Mayfield should be benched for health reasons are now part of head coach Kevin Stefanski’s media conferences. Stefanski brushed back the notion on Monday, but it isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

This sideshow element will get a much-needed break in Week 13, with the Browns heading into their bye with plenty of work to do. Not only with Mayfield’s health, but also a litany of other issues. Among them: The offensive line will need some attention with the season-ending injury to right tackle Jack Conklin, and the defensive lapses and penalty issues will require some energy.

Last season, the Browns were able to turn the bye week into a launching pad, closing the season on a 6-2 run that saw Mayfield put up arguably his best stretch as the team’s starting quarterback. But Cleveland also entered the bye last year with some optimism about a franchise that had appeared to be turning itself in the right direction. This time around? It’s more about settling down the noise and recalling what Mayfield and the offense did well in some fleeting stretches this year.

“For starters, everybody getting healthy [is important],” Mayfield said of the bye week. “Last year, with no preseason games or anything and with a new system, that was kind of a crucial point for us with everybody kind of doing self-scouting and realizing what we were good at, what we needed to focus on. So I imagine that’s going to be the same mentality — get better, focus on what we’re good at, continue to grow in those packages and fix our weaknesses. … I think there’s a lot of plays to be made that we just haven’t done it. And we’re good enough to do so, but we haven’t shown that.”

It's time for Baker Mayfield and the Browns do some reevaluating durinig their bye. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
It's time for Baker Mayfield and the Browns do some reevaluating durinig their bye. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Nothing on the agenda will loom larger than Mayfield’s health, and whether he’s capable of coming back in Week 14 with the ability to shake off a three-game slide that has seen him complete 50 percent of his passes while throwing only three touchdowns against three interceptions. That’s going to be paramount as Cleveland enters a brutal five-game stretch to close the season, facing five teams that are all still in the hunt for a playoff slot as of this week: the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders at home, followed by road games against the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, then finishing with a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

If Cleveland can somehow fight through that gauntlet and into the playoffs, it would be a monumental turn for a team that has endured some maddening inconsistency over the course of the season. Conversely, if the Browns stumble and fall out of the postseason picture, it will set up a pivotal offseason where a multitude of roster decisions will lie ahead on both sides of the ball.

And if Mayfield isn’t a clear part of getting the team back on track in the final six weeks, those decisions will largely orbit around what the Browns are doing at the quarterback spot. Not just what options might be available aside from Mayfield, but what to do with him if a change or addition to the position isn’t available. 

Because Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry won’t need to worry about what is being said about Mayfield on the social media pages of his teammates or their parents. Instead, they’ll have whatever Mayfield gives them down the stretch — or doesn’t — fueling every decision that comes next.

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