Brushing off Aaron Rodgers trade talk, the Browns are all in on Baker Mayfield while setting 'a new standard'

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The Cleveland Browns aren’t interested in trading for Aaron Rodgers. That’s what Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported over the weekend. The team is “all in” on Baker Mayfield for the 2021 season … and presumably beyond.

Getting that statement of support out there is a wise move by the Browns. Why let speculation fester?

After all, even if they were interested in Rodgers, the league’s reigning MVP, there is no guarantee that he can force an exit from Green Bay this offseason and, even if he does, there is even less probability that Cleveland would be his preferred destination.

Besides, as good as Rodgers is, whatever ransom is needed to get him is probably more than whatever upgrade he’d provide over Mayfield. This is still a team game. The Browns like their team.

So take your Rodgers speculation elsewhere. Cleveland has its quarterback.

That second sentence doesn’t come lightly. It arrives with force.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield celebrates after the Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield celebrates after the Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cleveland — Cleveland — has its quarterback, after decades of never having its quarterback. One of the most famous woe-is-us gimmicks from Browns fans is to list all the team QBs since the franchise was rebooted in 1999, a rundown that not even a CVS receipt can handle.

A real fan already has them memorized: Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, Tyrod Taylor.

Then came Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, the latest savior for this often failed franchise. He showed flashes as a rookie, but fewer of them in his second season. It wasn’t really until 2020, specifically late in the 2020 season, when Mayfield began to prove he was good enough that Cleveland, yes, actually had its quarterback.

The five touchdowns against Cincinnati in late October. The four at Tennessee in early December. The 6-2 run to end the regular season. The three TDs in a playoff victory over Pittsburgh. And even the strong play in a 22-17 loss to Kansas City a week later.

Mayfield finished with 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in the regular season, but went 20 TDs/3 INTs in his last 12 games, including the playoffs. He was really good.

All of it came in his first year under coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. The 2021 season will be the first time, presumably, Mayfield gets to play a second full season with the same coaching staff. It should only help.

The Browns are banking on him taking the next step, from a guy capable of winning games, even in January, to one who can win the big one in February. Just like that, the standards in Cleveland have changed. As it should. The roster is loaded. Talent is everywhere. Stefanski is clearly an excellent coach.

Dysfunction has made way for Super Bowl dreams.

It’s Mayfield who will have to meet them — something, it’s worth noting, he is eager to attempt. He even tried to raise the bar himself late last season.

“This is a passionate fan base that lives, breathes and dies football, and Cleveland Browns football at that,” Mayfield said last December. “I think it means a lot to them, but they need to reset their expectations because we all need to reset the standard. This is what I have been saying. There is a new standard.”

Mayfield’s bold play has matched his bold talk. Among the positives entering the 2021 season is that everyone surrounding the Browns believes they have their quarterback. When the team leaks they don’t want to dabble in any Rodgers sweepstakes, the fans, players and media agree. It’s the kind of unity that has proven rare in Cleveland.

There are caveats, of course. A little more than half of a great season doesn’t make a Hall of Fame career. The 2020 schedule was littered with weak opponents. His 62.8 percent completion percentage a year ago could be improved. Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and others still stand in the way in the AFC.

All of that can be sorted out. Right now, deep in the offseason, the Browns declared they were all in on their quarterback and no one blinked.

Aaron Rodgers isn’t even on the radar because it’s Baker or bust.

In Cleveland, that’s saying something.

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