For teams assessing whether to pursue quarterback Baker Mayfield, the challenge becomes understanding the differences between two good seasons (2018 and 2020) and two bad ones (2019 and 2021). It’s a little easier to understand why things went poorly for Mayfield in 2021.
His left shoulder was messed up, badly.
Yes, it was his own fault for trying to make a tackle after throwing a Week Two interception against the Texans. It happened in the first half of a September game. Definitely not the occasion to throw caution to the wind by hurling his body into the fray. The shoulder injury plagued him for the rest of the year, and it clearly affected his performance.
Consider this quote from his recent appearance on the Ya Neva Know podcast: “So I tore my labrum completely, like full front and like basically 90 percent in the back. That was Week Two. I did that in the first half. Played the rest of the game, I was fine. . . . Four weeks later, we were playing the Cardinals, and I dislocated my shoulder again. But I dislocated it so bad and at a different angle that the bone, like the humerus that goes up into your shoulder socket, like the big bone right here [that] comes up into your ball and socket and it forced its way out. And I fractured the bone because it wasn’t gonna be a clean exit. So I fractured the bone. So when I had the labrum done and that fracture, the inflammation and everything, I had no function in my left shoulder. And we were going into a Thursday game that week. Monday, I couldn’t lift my arm. When I couldn’t raise my arm, I was like, ‘I can’t do this.'”
To his credit, Mayfield spent much of the 2021 season downplaying the injury. Indeed, even when he knew he wouldn’t be able to play in a Thursday night game against the Broncos, he kept speaking as if he could and would.
On the same Monday that he decided he “can’t do this,” he said that the arm “feels like shit” but that he believes he’ll be able to play through it. The next day, he said he expects to play in the Thursday night game. His quotes created the clear impression that he believed he could play with the injury — and that he regarded it as his call and his call alone.
“I have to make that decision,” Mayfield said at the time. “Only I know how my body feels. If anyone questions whether I am hindering the team and going out there injured, that is just not right. It is my decision. I get to say whether I am able to play or not, and that is just how it is.”
We now know that, before he said that, he already had decided, “I can’t do this.” The only way to reconcile his past words with his present words is that, in the moment, players like Mayfield are wired to play. It’s an admirable trait.
And he played as much as he could. That quality — the determination and the toughness and the refusal to make excuses — needs to be weighed by any team that is wondering whether it wants to roll the dice with Mayfield. While there clearly are some drawbacks (otherwise, Cleveland wouldn’t have decided to move on from him), there definitely are some positives.