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If the Cleveland Browns still aren’t sure after nearly four seasons what it should look like with Baker Mayfield all they have to do on Saturday evening is look across the field at Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Browns expected Mayfield to be the face of their franchise when they selected him with the first overall pick of the 2018 draft.
They picked Mayfield so he could help make them a perennial playoff contender, so he could even carry them in the crucial moments and on the biggest stages.
The Browns picked Mayfield to do for them what Rodgers has done for the Packers.
And, to be fair, Mayfield has come pretty darn close to matching Rodgers at times.
Rodgers has been the State Farm guy with the discount double check while Mayfield has been home at FirstEnergy Stadium for Progressive so both are in your living room in 30-second segments approximately 293,480 times every weekend — combined, of course.
But that’s in the commercials.
On the field has been a different matter.
Rodgers is among the NFL’s best and has been for over a decade. He’s won three MVP awards, including one last year, and is a good bet to repeat this year.
Mayfield hasn’t been close to that. He’s been solid. He’s had moments of clarity.
But he’s not been elite. He’s not been a franchise quarterback.
And so there are questions about Mayfield as the 2021 season draws closer to the finish. Those include:
Will Mayfield help in a playoff push as this season winds down?
Can he deliver beyond the plateau he’s maintained for nearly four seasons.
Should the Browns remain committed to Mayfield to the point they pay him the new contract he wants next year?
Let’s handle those questions:
Mayfield will be available. After missing last week’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders while on the Covid-19 reserve list, Mayfield was activated Friday afternoon and will start against the Packers.
So Mayfield, who has not practiced with his teammates in over a week, will lead the walk-through the team will have early Saturday and that will be the greatest part of his on-field work in preparing for this game.
Then he’ll need to address issues the Browns have had in games with and without him at the helm because there have been a few.
The Cleveland offense has scored more than 17 points only once since Oct. 10 and in that one game — a 24-22 victory over Baltimore in Week 14 — Outside linebacker Myles Garrett scored a defensive TD.
There have been one-score losses this season to the Chiefs, Chargers, Steelers and Ravens in which one more successful offensive series could have changed the outcome, but Mayfield and his teammates didn’t deliver points.
“We have to close out those games,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “So many of these games in the NFL are like that. They are one-score games, and we have to finish in those moments. Really, you never know what play is going to affect it.
“As important as it is to finish in the fourth quarter, you really have to be great for 60 minutes, and that starts from the jump. There are certainly some things we want to do better offensively, defensively and special teams schematically and things that we can do in those moments to go close out a game.”
The Browns, you must know, have a No. 1 overall selection playing quarterback but their offense is centered around someone else — running back Nick Chubb and the running game.
Think about what that says about Mayfield.
The problem has been that focus offensively has also not delivered at a level to help Mayfield develop.
“Certainly, I would just tell you, not specific to Nick, but the run game in the last however many games has not been as efficient or as explosive as it was early,” Stefanski said. “It is never one thing. It is never one player, one scheme or those type of things.
“We know that teams – this goes back to Game 1, as well – they are going to commit to trying to stop the run. We have opportunities to still run the ball by scheme absolutely, but there are also opportunities in the pass game. We just have to make sure that we as coaches put the guys in position to succeed, whether you are running or throwing.”
That puts all eyes back on Mayfield now and going forward. The club has a fifth-year option on the quarterback for 2022 but both the club and player had discussed a second contract so the question so far is really whether Mayfield stays in Cleveland.
The issue is, of course, money.
The other issue is Mayfield wants to be paid like one of the league’s elite quarterbacks when his body of work doesn’t necessarily agree with that request.
The quarterback who has not shown a significant leap from his first couple of seasons to his last couple seasons and so his final games this season will be under the microscope in Cleveland starting Saturday night.
And the player all Cleveland fans wish Mayfield could be will also be there.
Except Aaron Rodgers will be on the other team Saturday night.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero