Jameis Winston found himself in a difficult situation two years ago. Despite being the number one pick in 2015, starting 70 games in five seasons with the Buccaneers, and leading the NFL in passing yards in 2019, no franchise wanted Winston to start for them when he became a free agent in 2020. If any such offers did exist, then at best Winston would enter a competition and that almost always means that the team has a weak supporting cast.
As we saw with Tom Brady choosing to replace Winston in Tampa Bay, good supporting casts means that the team is attractive to good quarterbacks.
So instead of betting on himself as a starter two years ago, Winston chose to follow Teddy Bridgewater’s path as the backup to Drew Brees on the New Orleans Saints. It also meant that Winston had to admit to the world that he had not done enough to earn the title of “franchise quarterback” and he was open to learning from the best.
“You know it’s a proverb: Humility comes before honor. So I have to humble myself. And this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be with Drew Brees, to be with the New Orleans Saints and just prepare for when my next opportunity’s gonna present itself.”
Not only would Winston be the backup to Brees, he would be in a competition against Taysom Hill to be the top backup in New Orleans. What it really did was afford Winston extra time to learn Sean Payton’s offense so that he could have the very opportunity that he has right now:
Two years after humbling himself by signing as a backup NFL quarterback, Jameis Winston is set to start for the Saints in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons. Winston signed a two-year, $28 million contract with $15.2 million guaranteed, two years after signing a $1.1 million deal to backup Brees and then a $5.5 million contract to replace Brees following his 2021 retirement.
All told, Winston has made a lot less than many of his counterparts over the last two years, but he’s guaranteed himself over $20 million and become a Week 1 starter on a GOOD team (the Saints could have the NFC’s top defense if all goes right) by foregoing chances to start on a bad team over the past three offseasons.
This is a lesson that Baker Mayfield should be studying intently right now.
Bridgewater was humbled by a knee injury rather than interceptions, but accepted the Saints’ backup job in 2018 and then went 5-0 as a starter in 2019. That led to a $63 million with $33 million guaranteed with the Carolina Panthers in 2020 and then another opportunity to start with the Denver Broncos in 2021.
He is now making $6.5 million with the Miami Dolphins and is closer to starting than most people realize.
Mayfield’s currently in a position with the Cleveland Browns in which a lot of fans may incorrectly believe that he’s a 2022 starter waiting to happen and that the only thing keeping him from being traded already is the haggling of a few million dollars and a shoulder injury.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Teams do IRRATIONAL THINGS when it comes to the quarterback position. That includes trading three first round picks and guaranteeing $230 million to questionable options like Deshaun Watson just so they can replace Mayfield. That includes trading for Carson Wentz in both 2021 and 2022. That includes ignoring injuries and believing that the body will right itself with proper conditioning. That includes paying far more than what they are worth.
Both Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo remain on their current rosters not because of shoulder ailments and contract figures, but because in the grand scheme of things there is not an NFL team that views either of them as absolute starting quarterbacks.
Not the Seattle Seahawks.
Not the Carolina Panthers. And in the pantheon of teams doing irrational things to improve the quarterback position, surely the franchise that traded for Sam Darnold AND exercised his fifth-year option would be atop such a list.
Ultimately, the Browns could find themselves stuck in a position where they hope to rectify the situation with Mayfield and convince him that if Watson is suspended for an entire year that there would be no better place to rebuild his value. The Browns appear to be a better team than the Seahawks and Panthers, and most of his teammates have said all the right things to welcome him back into the fold.
I just do not imagine that barring his release—a move that would save Cleveland $0—Baker Mayfield is a starter anywhere in the league other than the Browns.
Every report by Seattle’s local media has stated that the team would only be interested in Mayfield if he is released. Carolina tried hard to acquire Watson, but they have remained steadfast in avoiding Mayfield and his one-year, $18.8 million contract, and they also drafted Matt Corral in the third round as a potential building block during a season in which disaster seems imminent anyway.
And besides... what would Baker Mayfield really want with the Seahawks and Panthers?
He’d be leaving one of the best offensive lines in football for one of the worst. He’d be reaching for teams that are likely to be at the bottom of their divisions all just because... he wants to start for one season?
What about a plan in which instead of hoping to start in 2022, which looks more improbable with every passing day that we get closer to game action, Mayfield focuses on how he can follow the Jameis Winston or Teddy Bridgewater path towards becoming a full-time starter with a better contract in one or two years?
How about instead of playing for a bad team with no quarterback, Mayfield considers playing for the reigning Super Bowl champions with a potential MVP at quarterback?
If the Browns do release Mayfield, something that does not seem imminent—or at least, no more imminent than Cleveland releasing Odell Beckham Jr. in 2021, which led to him signing with the L.A. Rams—then how many teams could offer him a better opportunity than this one?
An opportunity to play for Sean McVay, the head coach who made the most out of Jared Goff that any coach possibly could have. The coach who helped lead Matthew Stafford to the first four playoff wins of his career and 41 touchdown passes.
The Rams are set at quarterback for the near and long-term futures (or at least as “long” as anyone should really care about in a league of such great attrition) but if anything happens to Stafford this year, they must turn the reins over to John Wolford. We saw how L.A. could win a game with Wolford back in 2020, but can they expect to compete with most playoff teams in the long-term if the Rams had to dip to the well for anything longer than a short appearance?
If Mayfield can in anyway dictate his path in 2022, then I believe it is in his best interests to find the best backup QB role in the league and that is probably the L.A. Rams.
Mayfield has been okay over his four seasons. He hasn’t been great and he hasn’t been good enough to justify the contract extension that I’m sure he felt he had already earned at the end of his third season. However, like Winston, the bad outweighs the good and he could be best served to use 2022 as a chance to get humble and learn from some of the best quarterbacks and coaches in the game.
From Stafford. From McVay. From Liam Coen. From quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson. From Cooper Kupp.
I do not expect Mayfield to do this. That’s probably why I think he needs it more than ever. Part of his issue is that he is not humble. He has not shown humility from the time he transferred out of Texas Tech to the moment that it was clear that Cleveland was giving up on him after four campaigns.
It’s good to have confidence. It’s better to have evidence. He will struggle to find that evidence in Seattle and Carolina because they are not in a position to support a quarterback and he’s not the type of quarterback who elevates the entire team around him.
Instead, Mayfield should find a quarterback who he can support with the hope that he’ll be the top free agent in 2023. If the Rams get the opportunity to give him that opportunity, the door should be wide open.