Baker Mayfield is not content to hide behind his position. As countless other quarterbacks go the Russell Wilson route and turn into a corporate figurehead focused on avoiding interesting comments and behavior at all costs, Mayfield is marching to the beat of his own loud drum. He’s accompanying that with a healthy dose of slam poetry aimed at critics.
The brash, obscenely talented, and uniquely comfortable (for now) quarterback of the Browns is the subject of ESPN the Magazine’s latest cover story. He presents himself as someone who doesn’t care what others think about him, though deep down, everyone does. But he projects strength in indifference, courage in candidness, and confidence in his abilities.
His mouth is writing check after check that his body and mind will have to cash. Haunted and horrific as the Browns’ franchise is, it would take a brave man to bet against him.
Mayfield, coming off a Heisman-winning campaign at Oklahoma, stepped into the NFL and hit the ground running. He threw for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns in 13 starts and turned the Browns into a competitive entity. His poise was ever-present and the swagger showed no signs of slowing down. With a deep and formidable collection of offensive weaponry around him, Mayfield is all set up for bigger things this season.
It’s an overreaction to say he’s taken the league over or is transforming what it means to be a quarterback. At least for right now. Wait a few years, though, and we’ll all realize he was the pioneer for a new age of passers who eschew the ways of the past and write their own script.
Mayfield is the quarterback of the future behaviorally. His age is instructive as he reflects a generation not entirely interested in due deference or maintaining norms. There are positive and negative elements there. Yes, many of the traditional ways of doing things as “the face of the franchise” are antiquated and silly. But some are there for a reason, and Mayfield will only learn that through experience and consequence.
The NFL, for all its progress, can still look the part of a stuffy party: the deep-pocketed and coat-tailed old guard enjoying fine dining, impervious to the coming storm. Mayfield is the guy without a tie, telling the mayor what he doesn’t like about him, and drawing all the eyes in the room.
It’s a high-risk, high-reward existence. But it’s an authentic one for Mayfield. And it will become even more normalized and accepted if the Browns turn out to be winners. Times and people are changing. They could change quicker if the results speak for themselves.
Mayfield is an outlier right now and it makes him interesting. Soon, he’ll fit right into the mainstream. For now, he must walk alone. Which he seems perfectly content to do.