The 2021 season has been a pivotal one for Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, both on and off the field.
However, he and the team have struggled maintaining consistency on the field, casting doubts about whether the team will opt to offer him a new long-term contract.
However, away from the field Mayfield has also been displaying his leadership qualities.
He has long spoken out in defense of Julius Jones, who had been convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years, but the 40-year-old, his family, attorneys and supporters say he is innocent.
Last season, Mayfield displayed Jones’ name on the back of his helmet in solidarity for the inmate.
On Wednesday, the 26-year-old Mayfield – among other members of the sporting world – used his platform to call for the Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to spare Jones.
“That’s not something that’s easy to talk about,” an emotional Mayfield – who played football at the University of Oklahoma – told reporters.
“I’ve been trying to get the facts stated and the truth to be told for a while, but it is tough to think about. Tried and tried. It is a shame that it has gotten this far. We are 24 hours away. So, it’s tough. You know, hopefully, God can intervene, and handle it correctly and do the things he needs to do.”
A day later, Stitt granted clemency to Jones, commuting Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without parole just hours before he was scheduled to be executed.
Mayfield reacted to the news on Twitter: “God is GREAT!!! Thank you to everybody that prayed and continued to pray!”
The quarterback’s support for Jones has won plaudits.
“Whatever you think of Baker Mayfield, he has been advocating for Julius Jones for quite awhile,” tweeted former NFL star Stephen White. “And definitely longer than I knew his story and I doubt I’m alone.”
For the long run or a short-term fix?
If Mayfield is beloved in Cleveland, the NFL quarterback’s future appears uncertain at the Browns.
His charisma and dedication combined with his play on the field has endeared him to a dedicated fan base.
Now in his fourth year with the team, he has thrown for 13,105 yards and 84 touchdowns since being drafted, helping to transform the historically snake-bitten Ohio team and helping to earn them their first post season playoff berth since 2002.
The Browns exercised Mayfield’s fifth-year contract option for the 2022 season – worth $18.9 million guaranteed – though he has struggled with injuries and accuracy on the field this season.
He has been playing through a torn labrum, something that NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported he will need surgery on at the end of the season.
As a result, there are questions as to whether the team will choose to stick with Mayfield and offer him a long-term contract, like the Buffalo Bills did with Mayfield’s fellow 2018 Draft quarterback Josh Allen – he signed a six-year contract extension worth up to $258 million with $150 million guaranteed in August.
Cleveland and Mayfield’s agent didn’t immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the status of any potential future contract for the quarterback.
Fox Sports analyst Jay Glazer thinks that the Browns will consider all their options at the end of the year, including Mayfield’s position as starting quarterback.
“It’s kind of a sticky situation right cause sometimes they look at him and they’re like: ‘OK we can win with this guy, he can be our guy,’ but there will be a lot of veteran [quarterbacks] who will perhaps be up for grabs in the offseason,” Glazer said on the “Pat McAfee Show” on Wednesday.
“When [The Browns] are looking at it and they see who’s available, what guys they can get in a trade, what guys they can get in the draft and they think Baker is the better option long-term then they got to go long-term with him.”