TORONTO — From 1999 to 2018, no NFL franchise collected more losses than the Cleveland Browns. During that span, only two teams went winless for an entire regular season, the Lions in 2008 and the Browns in 2017. And Cleveland’s 31 losses combined in 2016 and 2017 mark the worst two-year period in pro football history.
Their list of woes is a long one.
Since 1999, the Browns have had 31 different starting quarterbacks. And until last season’s first month, the team faced a 19-game winless streak, which spanned over 635 days or 1,140 minutes played.
But things started to change, unexpectedly, in last season’s Week 4. Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a concussion right before halftime, gave way to Baker Mayfield. When Mayfield lined up for his NFL debut, the Browns were down 14-0 to the Sam Darnold-led New York Jets.
Then the unimaginable happened. Mayfield needed only 30 minutes to do what the Browns were trying to do for more than a year — win.
The first overall pick in 2018 showed Cleveland what a triumph looked like and, more than that, put the franchise on the football radar again.
Mayfield played in 13 games totalling a rookie record-breaking 27 passing touchdowns. Besides that, he led the Browns to seven wins in 2018, which surpasses the team’s win-total from 2015 to 2017.
More than the triumphs themselves, after Mayfield’s performances, along with the idea of having a reliable starting quarterback, the Browns became relevant again.
Even though football has seen big disappointments in the past — and there are no guarantees the quarterback will repeat his success — Mayfield’s arrival gave the Browns confidence to start moving the chains in order to build a solid team.
The Mayfield factor was crucial in Cleveland’s acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. in the NFL’s biggest trade this off-season so far. The star wide receiver will join Jarvis Landry and David Njoku, who both were acquired in 2017, as facilitators for the eventual arrival of a franchise quarterback. Along with them will be running backs Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson, and Kareem Hunt (after the eight-game suspension).
This is the offensive arsenal that rookie coach Freddie Kitchens will have. And the Brown’s decision to name Kitchens, team’s offensive co-ordinator in 2018, the head coach is once again related to Mayfield’s presence. After all, Cleveland needed an offence-minded coach on the sidelines.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns found in edge rusher Myles Garrett another key piece, putting them in position to select best cornerback Denzel Ward (instead of higher rated Bradley Chubb for example) in the 2018 Draft, and make aggressive moves this off-season, such as trading for Olivier Vernon.
What has been seen so far from Mayfield, even though it’s still very recent, gave Cleveland a green light, kicking off a domino effect around the quarterback.
From being the first overall selection and biggest icon of the Brown’s bright future, Mayfield is now (and already) the leader of one of the NFL’s most interesting teams. Things have changed that quickly for the former Oklahoma star.
Mayfield might have to climb more than one step at a time from now on. And it’s impressive how he seems to like it. His competitiveness, too, made a huge difference in this case.
In 2019, the ball will be in Mayfield’s hands. Literally.
And figuratively as well.