Good news, Cleveland Browns fans: Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward will stay with the team through the 2022 NFL season.
The Browns picked up fifth-year options on both players Friday, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
Neither move was a surprise. Mayfield, 26, has started all 32 games for the Browns over the past two seasons and heads into 2021 as the team's starter once again. He's coming off a season in which he threw 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions and helped lead the Browns to an 11-5 record and Cleveland's first playoff win since 1995.
Ward has shown plenty of talent during his young career. In three seasons, Ward has started 36 games. He has seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and 143 tackles during that time. Ward, 23, also has a Pro Bowl appearance under his belt, making the team during his rookie season.
Will the Browns commit to Baker Mayfield long term?
While picking up Mayfield's fifth-year option was a no-brainer, figuring out whether to extend Mayfield could be a bigger question for the Browns. Mayfield has turned in two strong seasons as the team's starter. As a rookie, Mayfield threw for 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He looked like a future superstar before a disappointing second year. Mayfield bounced back in 2020, but the Browns relied heavily on their run game.
If Mayfield turns in another solid season in 2021, the Browns will be faced with a tough decision. Should they hand out a massive contract to a quarterback who is good, but not elite? Those types of moves usually don't end well. The Cincinnati Bengals handed Andy Dalton a six-year, $96 million extension in 2014. He continued to put up decent stats, but never led the Bengals on a deep playoff run.
A better comp for Mayfield might be Jared Goff, who received a four-year, $134 million extension from the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. The Rams decided that was the wrong move quickly, trading Goff — and his contract — for Matthew Stafford in January.
During his age-23 to age-25 seasons, Goff threw for 82 touchdowns against 35 interceptions. He completed 63.3 percent of his passes and averaged 4,376 passing yards per year. Mayfield has been slightly worse over that same age range. He has thrown for 75 touchdowns against 43 interceptions, completed 61.9 percent of his passes and averaged 3,705 yards per year.
Mayfield could make that entire discussion moot by taking a step forward in 2021 and retaining those gains in 2022. If Mayfield remains the same player, the Browns could be stuck in a bad place once Mayfield is eligible to hit the market.
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