Cleveland, keep Baker!
Thomas Zwiller | Wednesday, March 2, 2022
You’ve seen the commercials. There’s Baker in a bathrobe grabbing a coffee, Baker bringing a boot to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Baker watering some plants outside First Energy Stadium.
At Home with Baker Mayfield may genuinely be one of my favorite ad campaigns in recent years. Mayfield is honestly a talented actor, and I enjoy watching those ads. If I saw them on YouTube, I would not skip them; a rare thing.
However, Mayfield is not in the headlines for his acting acumen. Instead, he is in the headlines for his football failures. Perhaps not failures, but shortcomings.
But the controversy is real. Baker now enters his fifth season in the NFL, with the Browns exercising his rookie contract’s fifth-year option. The cap hit of 18.9 million-roughly 8.7% of the Browns’ projected cap number- is no small commitment.
Yet, at the same time, it feels like it is. As Bakers’ fellow draft mates of the 2018 draft begin to age out, those who have panned out as good picks are beginning to sign their contracts.
Josh Allen is currently under contract until 2028, with the contract looking more and more like a win for the Bills. Lamar Jackson is currently negotiating his contract with the Ravens (without an agent, if you can believe it). Sam Darnold is also in his own fifth-year option, though I have a feeling the Panthers will bring him back.
The fates of Baker’s draft mates have been decided: yet Baker remains very much in flux. It certainly is not a majority, but I have seen a lot of people suggesting the Browns should try and draft a QB or acquire a veteran through trades.
However, I honestly find that ridiculous.
I know Baker had a horrible year this year; by ZLO’s pure passing stat he ranks 43rd at 54.1. (For reference, Tom Brady ranks 1st with a value of 269.4.) Baker also ranks 327th as a rusher, which honestly is not horrible for a QB, but still puts him at an overall value of 47.8. That’s not great, considering that the average starting QB is somewhere around 150.
However, just the year prior, Baker was valued at 147 points as a pure passer, which is a great total for a third-year QB. Now, granted, he lost 11.3 as a rusher (few QBs are not negative as fumbles are counted as rusher stats) for a total of 135.7.
A way I like to assess the value of a player beyond a simple ZLO stat is $ per ZLO, which is simply taking a player’s cap hit divided by their ZLO value (I talked about this more back in December when I gave my MVP opinion).
Baker certainly does not have a cheap ZLO value this year, he currently sits at $195,376 per ZLO point, a mark that is atrocious. Of the 32 starting QBs in the NFL, Baker’s dollar-ZLO ($/Z) ratio is one of the top 5 worst among starting QBs. The worst in the league was Zach Wilson (-17 ZLO, $6.4 million salaries) next was Russell Wilson (233,421 $/Z), Matt Ryan (219,680 $/Z), Ben Roethlisberger (204,001 $/Z) and Baker. (Sixth was Jimmy G and seventh Wentz)
But again, last year Baker was incredibly valuable, at $66,352 per ZLO point. It would take him from an overpaid contract to just below average, which I think is fair.
So why do I keep harping on the fact that last season Baker was both good and valuable? Well, that’s because Baker was injured in Week two when he tore his labrum. On top of that, in Week six he fractured his humerus bone and injured his lower body repeatedly.
With that level of injury, trying to make any sort of value on a player is nearly impossible. Imagine trying to figure out if you want a car and it only has three wheels. It could be a nice car, but you would never know: it is incomplete.
So, if I were the Browns, I would continue to build the team around Baker. As much as I love thedraftnetwork.com, the fact that they have QB as a primary need for the Browns is ridiculous. Just one season ago the Browns almost beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead in the playoffs. Baker suffered a tough injury last season. Injured players seldom play to their max potential.
And even if the Browns were to be in a drafting mindset, is this really the draft to do it? Draft experts have called this one of the worst QB draft classes in recent memory.
To add to that, my favorite CBS mock drafts have the first QB going at sixth. There is not a generational one among the bunch; the deepest positions are likely the edge rushers and offensive linemen.
And so, while that may provide the potential for the Browns (currently picking at 13th) to get a QB, why waste the asset? The odds that the Browns select a QB who will be better than Baker are slim at best.
By addressing other needs, the Browns are helping Baker to succeed. If Baker ends up panning out like I think he will, then you succeeded and can focus on the future.
If Baker flops and plays poorly, odds are good the Browns will possess a good draft pick. They can let Baker go and can try and get a better QB in a better draft.
To me, it just seems that it would be a major waste for the Browns to draft a QB, knowing that Baker has shown himself to be good. Baker suffered an injury and played poorly. Instead of wasting assets, just take a piece to help the defense or offense and hope he plays well.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.