Ah, what a quarterback can do for your future.
Baker Mayfield’s exciting rookie season sent waves through the NFL, which propped the Browns up as a legitimate contender ahead of 2019 and also set them up to fall well short of such an expectation in dramatic fashion. Mayfield himself saw a regression in production, cooling the world on the Browns as one decade closed and another began.
Someone forgot to tell tight end Austin Hooper, one of the Browns’ two big free-agent signings made in the last week. Mayfield’s presence on the roster was a big reason why he chose to move to Cleveland.
"No question, being in a position that is dependent upon getting balls from the quarterback, it was definitely a part of the process for me," Hooper said Tuesday, via The Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot. "Playing against Baker Mayfield live, seeing his arm and seeing his competitive spirit and the way he rallies the guys around him, that is what sold me on him before I was obviously a free agent.
"This was two seasons ago now when we came up to Cleveland. I knew what he was about for a couple of years now so when the opportunity presented itself on the first day of legal tampering, I couldn’t turn it down."
Hooper was part of a busy first week and a half of free agency for the Browns, who entered with top-five cap space and some clear needs. General manager Andrew Berry acted quickly, securing Hooper early in the first day of the negotiating window before moving to add right tackle Jack Conklin among a host of others.
Berry also pursued and secured the services of a veteran backup quarterback with the tools necessary to keep Cleveland’s offense afloat if something goes wrong with the apple of Hooper’s free-agent eye. Case Keenum was sold on the idea of becoming a Brown because of a few reasons, including familiarity with Browns coach Kevin Stefanski (Keenum’s QB coach in Minnesota in 2017) and a chance to be part of a team that should be trending upward. As all good veteran backups are, Keenum also made clear he will be prepared if his number is called.
Keenum has done it before, making a career out of coming off the bench (in Houston, St. Louis and Minnesota) and producing mixed results that were enough to keep earning him employment. In fact, he’s at his best when in a backup role and called to action, not as the anointed starter, as he was in Denver in 2018 and in an obviously short-term situation in Washington in 2019.
Those hoping Keenum’s arrival and preparedness will inspire a quarterback controversy can leave that dream back with Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb (for now, because this is still Cleveland, after all). Keenum said Wednesday there’s no uncertainty in the quarterbacks room, adding he knows what his role is as he prepares to join the team.
"If Baker’s shoelace comes untied, I’m going to be ready to go," Keenum said, again via The Plain Dealer.
Browns fans (and Hooper) will hope Mayfield has a smooth transition to yet another offensive coordinator — a circumstance with which Keenum said Wednesday he can relate — and if all goes according to plan, Cleveland should only have to see Keenum take the field in victory formation, if at all. Then again, we know how quickly things can derail in this sport. A good backup plan is never a bad idea.
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