Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: Is the NFL Right to Be Wary of Baker Mayfield?

Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: Is the NFL Right to Be Wary of Baker Mayfield?


Could Baker Mayfield be the next Ryan Leaf? Free agency isn’t always glamorous. And Odell Beckham Jr. has fellow players worried—very worried. All that and more in this week’s 10-Point Stance.


1. Will Baker Mayfield crack?

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has his pro day on Wednesday, and it will be one of the few things that will temporarily distract us from the frenzy of NFL trades and free agency. 

As many scouts and team decision-makers continue to form their opinions of Mayfield, they may want to see what one infamous quarterback bust had to say.

"I think the Johnny Manziel/Baker Mayfield comparisons aren’t warranted," said 1998 No. 2 overall pick Ryan Leaf in reference to the pervasive comparison between the two on the Ballers with Babies podcast with Mark Willard.

"I think, probably, the comparison with me is more appropriate [for Mayfield]," Leaf continued. "The highly competitive, borderline arrogant, angry individual. The biggest thing for me will be how he deals with failure. That’s where my downfall was, when things began to fall apart, how I was able to deal with that. When the media is on you, you play a bad game, your whole city is on you, that’s where we’ll see where Baker Mayfield is at. Right now there’s no evidence to back up that when things get tough, he won’t break."


"There isn’t any evidence," Leaf explained. "I want to see actionable evidence over the next few months before the draft."

Leaf’s thoughts match what I’ve heard from team officials over the past few weeks. The problem with Mayfield is not his cockiness. Lots of successful players are cocky. The concern some teams have is that Mayfield’s cockiness is obscuring a soft disposition underneath. In essence, teams are worried about his mental toughness and maturity. What will happen when things go wrong? Will he pout? Will he melt? Or will he rise above it?

Is this unfair to Mayfield?

Of course it is. He hasn’t taken a snap in the league.

But this is the draft, and until a player proves otherwise, unfair—even wrong—suppositions are possible.

And they are happening to Mayfield more than any other quarterback in this draft.

Similar questions were asked about Leaf, or at least they should have been. He wasn’t ready for the pressure of being one of the top picks in the draft, for being forever compared to that year’s top pick, Peyton Manning. It obliterated Leaf, and now it appears he is worried the same thing could happen to Mayfield.

Let’s hope in a few years we can all look back on this and laugh how wrong everyone was about Mayfield.


2. Free agency isn’t all headlines and dollar signs for many

Yes, there are the stars of free agency such as Kirk Cousins, Dion Lewis and Allen Robinson. They attract the headlines and attention.

But most free agents are like defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois—good players, and sought after, but often forced to be patient, exceedingly patient.

"The main thing about free agency," Francois said in an interview with B/R, "is the wait. You just wait for the phone to ring."

Whoever signs Francois will be lucky. He’s as dedicated and professional as any player I’ve ever covered. Why else do you think he was good enough to play for both the Patriots and Packers last season?

"I want to find a home for the next three to five years," he said, "and then call it a career after that."


3. Another graduate of the Pats’ football Ph.D. program

While the aforementioned Jean Francois only spent six regular-season games with the Patriots, what he experienced there was eye-opening, he told me.

"I got to see what made New England tick," Jean Francois said. "I got a chance to pick up knowledge."

Then Francois added: "I thought I knew football. Then I went there."

That’s a remarkable statement when you consider that Jean Francois has been in the NFL since 2009 and has played for the 49ers, Colts, Washington and the Packers.

He’s seen just about everything a player can see, yet he feels he truly learned about the game only after joining the Patriots and being coached by Bill Belichick. The difference, Jean Francois told me, and what he believes makes Belichick so successful, is how the Patriots coach emphasizes that players master the little things.

"He helped me understand football so much," Jean Francois said. "I never went into a game unprepared. He actually over-prepares you.

"I’ve had a lot of coaches say, ‘Do your job.’ That was the first place where everyone actually did their job."


4. Odell Beckham Jr. has players around the league worried

The viral video of Odell Beckham lying in bed next to what looks like a brown cigarette while a woman sits next to him separating a white powdery substance into lines has stunned some players around the league.

Several players I talked to don’t care about the possibility Beckham had a blunt next to him. Many players smoke marijuana themselves.

The white powder, though, is a concern—a big one.

Beckham is destroying his image and earning potential, several veteran players told me. They state the obvious: being on video with someone possibly using cocaine just isn’t smart. Duh.

This video won’t help Beckham as he tries to secure a new long-term contract. The Giants have to decide if they can trust him with huge money.

Meanwhile, Beckham might want to invest in a Faraday Cage.


5. Ndamukong Suh and the perils of free agency

When defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh signed with the Dolphins in 2015 for $114.5 over six seasons, there were NFL team officials who privately said the contract was one of the dumbest in years.

Three years later, Suh is likely to be playing elsewhere next season, according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington.

The lesson for Miami, and every other team, is you don’t overpay players (except in the case of quarterbacks, where overpaying is unavoidable).

That didn’t need to happen with Suh. The biggest problem when he signed was that Suh didn’t always give maximum effort. That remains a problem to this day. He picks and chooses his spots to play hard. Many teams knew this, but the Dolphins fell for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick.

Suh will sign somewhere, but after he lived down to the expectations of many, the contract likely won’t stretch anyone’s cap space this time.


6. Free agency is fun, but remember…

I loved this stat from the NFL Network’s James Palmer:

For all the excitement about free agency (and I love it), in most cases the players changing teams won’t have an immediate impact, and they may have no impact at all.


7. Browns are getting a good one in Tyrod Taylor

The new Browns quarterback—whom Cleveland agreed to acquire in a trade with Buffalo, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport—is one of the most vastly underrated players in the sport. In Buffalo, he played with slow wide receivers, and he still produced. Now that he’s in Cleveland, he’ll do the same.

To get a sense of just how underappreciated Taylor has been, we again turn to the NFL Network’s James Palmer:

Not bad at all.


8. The truth about Brady’s hand injury

After suffering a cut to his throwing hand prior to the AFC title game, Tom Brady and the Patriots were largely quiet about the extent of the injury. Now, via the Tom vs Time reality series, we can see for the first time how bad the damage was when his hand hit running back Rex Burkhead’s helmet in a practice leading up to the game.

I’ve seen all kinds of injuries to hands of quarterbacks, including broken bones. I’ve never seen a quarterback play with a cut on a throwing hand that deep.

Looking back, it’s remarkable that Brady not only played against the Jaguars but also played in the Super Bowl only two weeks later.


9. Flunking NFL Econ 101

A video from Seahawks cornerback Neiko Thorpe (NSFW language) is disturbing on many different levels. In it (as found by NFL reporter Dov Kleiman), a woman follows Thorpe and cornerback Mike Tyson to the practice facility and confronts them over the anthem protests of the players and says her tax dollars pay their salaries.

Just to be clear, her tax dollars do not pay their salaries.

It’s scary that someone not only feels comfortable verbally attacking players over a peaceful protest but also doesn’t comprehend the simple reality that tax dollars don’t pay player salaries.


10. Goodbye, Jordy?

The Packers announced that they released star receiver Jordy Nelson. It’s possible he comes back at a reduced salary, but the chance seems remote.

On a personal note, whenever I’ve gone to Green Bay, Nelson, along with Aaron Rodgers, were the two players who were always the nicest. Rodgers has always been nothing but class to me, and Nelson was the same. He’d always take the time to say "hi," explain the offense and ask about me.

Dealing with reporters wasn’t just a part of the job for him. He is just a decent guy who wanted to engage in thoughtful conversation.

Whichever team gets him next will be lucky, especially because I also think he can still play at a high level.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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March 14, 2018 at 03:51AM


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