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CLEVELAND (AP) — At least Baker Mayfield's exit meeting went well. Just about everything else this season for the Browns quarterback was off the mark.
And while the season is over, his time in Cleveland isn't as defined.
Mayfield watched Sunday's home finale wearing a stocking cap on the sideline as Cleveland capped a disappointing season with a 21-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals — a victory that brought little comfort to a Browns team that had been expected to do much more.
It was an anticlimactic ending for Mayfield, whose attempt to play through injuries all season led to inconsistency in his performances. Mayfield, who is scheduled to undergo surgery Jan. 19 on his left, non-throwing shoulder, met with coach Kevin Stefanski on Friday to discuss a season that didn't go their way and how to improve moving forward.
Whether that's together remains to be seen. There've been obvious frustrations, and the losing has spawned speculation about a rift between the coach and the 26-year-old quarterback, even though Stefanski said Friday that he had a “good relationship” with Mayfield.
Stefanski offered no details about their conversation, but that Mayfield left it on a positive note.
“He's looking forward and I am looking forward for him to get the surgery, rest up, get healthy and all of those things,” Stefanski said.
Barring a major shift, it appears the Browns will head into the offseason with Mayfield as their starter for next season.
Mayfield is under an $18.9 million contract for next season after the Browns (8-9) exercised the option. The team has not spoken to his agents about a long-term extension, and the Browns' hesitancy to lock Mayfield up has led to speculation that they may be looking for his replacement.
Stefanksi was asked if he discussed a plan with Mayfield about being Cleveland's starter.
“Obviously, those type of meetings are between me and the players," Stefanski said. "I think a lot of times those exit meetings are where they are, where their health is, where they are going, what we can do better and all of those type of things.”
If they can't find a better option either through a trade or free-agent signing, the Browns will have to stick with Mayfield, who threw seven interceptions in his last three games. He'll have to be better on and off the field.
Mayfield, who injured his shoulder in Week 2 while trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception, didn't make his teammates better. He struggled with his accuracy and failed to deliver in the clutch.
Mayfield also didn't help his case when he skipped a postgame interview session after a win over Detroit, and made headlines last week by responding angrily on social media to a report on his relationship with Stefanski by calling out Cleveland's media.
On Sunday, Mayfield watched as veteran backup Case Keenum threw two touchdown passes and led the Browns to a season sweep of the Bengals (10-7) and third-place finish in the AFC North.
It's not how he envisioned his season ending. It's not what the Browns had in mind, either.
When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Mayfield walked slowly toward the tunnel in a quickly emptying FirstEnergy Stadium. There were few cheers as he left the field.
Just a year ago, after helping Cleveland end its long playoff drought and taking the Browns to a playoff win at Pittsburgh, Mayfield seemed destined to becoming the long-sought franchise quarterback. He's now just a broken one.
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press