That’s not quite what happened. Actually, Mayfield played the best football of his NFL career last season after Beckham tore his ACL in late October. But the Browns are desperate to make this marriage work, even if it means negating all the progress Mayfield made in his third NFL season.
The Browns appear committed to keeping Mayfield and Beckham together
Unless there’s an 11th-hour trade before training camp, Beckham won’t be handing in his Browns uniform and playbook anytime soon.
Whether that is good news for Mayfield and the Browns’ offense is still unknown. The fourth-year quarterback grew into a reliable game-manager in 2020, someone who can still shred defenses with his arm but also isn’t going to risk turning the ball over.
Considering the Browns’ history, simply having a competent quarterback is a dream come true. But Mayfield showed late in the 2020 season that he might not need to throw for 4,000 yards every year to be a winning quarterback in the NFL, especially not with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt at running back. That strategy is one that could have the Browns competing for an AFC championship this coming season.
So what does this have to do with Beckham, the former All-Pro receiver? We’re so glad you asked.
Keeping Beckham risks reversing the progress Mayfield made in 2020
Let’s flashback to Oct. 25, 2020, when Mayfield threw five touchdowns and an interception in a 37-34 victory over Joe Burrow and the Bengals. That same day, Beckham suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the Browns’ seventh game of the year.
Now, let’s compare Mayfield’s first seven games in the 2020 season through his final nine regular-season outings and two playoff starts.
Games 1-7: Mayfield completed 61.3% of his passes for 1,392 yards, 15 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. The Browns went 5-2 in that span.
Games 8-16: Mayfield completed 62.5% of his passes for 2,171 yards, 11 touchdowns, and one interception. The Browns went 6-3 in that span. He also completed 61.9% of his passes for 487 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception in two playoff games.
Yes, Mayfield didn’t throw as many touchdowns, and the Browns didn’t win as many games, but they nonetheless made it to the AFC divisional round. He threw a single interception in 288 pass attempts during those final nine games, an incredible feat for a quarterback who totaled 35 interceptions in his first two seasons.
How much of that progress has to do with Beckham not out there each week? Mayfield could spread the ball around instead of having a flamboyant receiver demand his touches. The relaxed approach also allowed the Browns to give Chubb and Hunt the number of carries they needed to wear teams down and close games out.
In fairness to Beckham, the Browns won four of their first six games with him in the lineup. But was his absence the difference between finishing 11-5 and 7-9? There’s reason to believe that theory has merit.
Can Beckham still be a Pro Bowl-caliber starting receiver?
Don’t let his injury make you forget Beckham will play a good chunk of the 2021 season at 28 years old and is still a dynamic talent. However, he’s coming off a torn ACL and didn’t look like his old self in 2019, either.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection hauled in 74 catches for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns in his first season with the Browns. All of those numbers represented his lowest in a season where he played at least 12 games. He also ended the 2020 season with 23 catches, 319 yards, and three touchdowns in seven games; across a 16-game season, that works out to 53 catches, 730 yards, and seven touchdowns. Not exactly what one would expect from a No. 1 receiver.
The Browns want Mayfield and Beckham to succeed together, and it’s hard to blame them. This is a duo the Browns had high hopes for in 2019, and the optimism should still be there, even if it’s to a lesser extent, two years later. Receivers have come back from far worse than a torn ACL and played at an elite level.
However, the Browns need to be prepared to potentially move on if Beckham is bringing Mayfield and the offense down this fall. The Browns finally have a chance to be a consistent winner, and one player shouldn’t be what sinks the ship.