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Kevin Stefanski excited about Baker Mayfield’s upside in 2021: ‘He’s chomping at the bit’

CLEVELAND, Ohio  — Kevin Stefanski has high hopes for Baker Mayfield in 2021 based on his improvement over the second half of last season.

“I wouldn’t put any parameters on any of our guys when it comes to their trajectory,’’ Stefanski said during a Zoom conference on Tuesday. “I would just tell you that I know he can continue to get better. He’s another person who’s eager to get better. He’s chomping at the bit.

“When he walks in this building or we virtually see him next, we’ll make sure that we outline some things that he can improve on. I think you all know this about Baker, he works really, really hard at his craft. When you do that, you have a chance.”

Over the final 12 games of the season including playoffs, Mayfield threw 20 touchdowns against only two interceptions following that fateful pick on his first pass of the Bengals game that resulted in a torn ACL for Odell Beckham. In fact, Mayfield was the second-highest rated quarterback in the NFL from Week 7 on, according to profootballfocus.com.

Mayfield, who went 11-5 and 1-1 in the playoffs, finished the season ranked No. 15 in the NFL with a 95.9 rating, up from 31st in 2019 with a 78.8 mark. He trimmed his interceptions from 21 for second-most in 2019 to eight in 2020, tied for seventh-fewest.

Stefanski attributed Mayfield’s second-half turnaround in large part to him calling a better game for him once he got to know him and the rest of his personnel. They called more keepers, more play-action and more passes to trusted receivers like Rashard Higgins down the stretch.

“I think Baker definitely became more comfortable in what we were doing, but I’d tell you that I became more comfortable with his skillset, and going across the board, I was learning about our players and our coaches were learning about our players throughout that beginning portion of the season,’’ he said. “I just think it was the natural evolution of us an offense as we all learned about each other a little bit more.”

Stefanski is eager to see what Mayfield can accomplish in year two in the scheme — the first time he’s not learning a new playbook. Continuity across the board, from the coaching staff to the personnel, will enable them to hit the ground running this season instead of learning on the fly.

“What we’re trying to do is fine tune and hone in on the things we are good at while looking at what other people are doing and seeing if that fits us,’’ Stefanski said. “I make no bones about it – we will steal from everybody if it is a good idea. We’re watching a lot of tape of the NFL players and we are watching college tape, and if we think it might help us, we’ll definitely make it part of our offense.”

Mayfield should have most of his offense back this season, but some things are up in the air, including whether or not the Browns will re-sign Higgin, who hasn’t received an offer from them yet. That will likely happen as soon as the salary cap is set, and if they can’t strike a deal, he’ll hit the market March 17th (early negotiating begins March 15) to determine his value. Heading into free agency, spotrac.com predicts he’ll make about $6 million a year — a huge increase from the $910,000 the Browns paid him this season.

“I’d tell you that I’d love to bring everybody back,’’ Stefanski said. “I have had great relationships with all of these players and you want to bring them all back, and we just realize that this is a business and sometimes that’s not possible. I will tell you, we have had a lot of really good conversations with Andrew (Berry) and his staff and coaches and trying to outline a plan for this offseason. Will there be new faces? Absolutely, there will be. How many? I don’t know. That’s the process we’re working through.”

But with the NFL quarterback carousel spinning faster than ever this offseason, the Browns are grateful they’re building on a terrific season by their 2018 No. 1 overall pick and not trying to find their man.

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