CLEVELAND — Baker Mayfield is the quarterback few predicted the Browns would take No. 1 overall.
Except for everyone who now claims they knew it all along.
The rest of us failed to see Mayfield’s rare blend of accuracy and confidence as the skeleton key that might one day soon unlock the Browns dusty old trophy room.
Freddie Kitchens is the coach nobody thought would be Hue Jackson’s permanent successor when the Hard Knocks cameras were rolling. And for quite a few months after.
Except Baker Mayfield?
“I kind of had that sense the whole time,” Mayfield said during a blitz of national media outlets at the Super Bowl.
“Just seeing how he was, how he didn't change when he jumped from running backs coach to offensive coordinator, and then just taking over and the difference that we had when he was calling plays and he had guys believing in him.”
A quarterback considered short of stature and a coach too light in the resume to secure a top job in the NFL are in harmony when it comes to wagon-circling.
(Past coaches circling the stationary bikes wasn't quite the same rallying cry.)
“If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” Mayfield said, echoing Kitchens more colorful like about outsiders.
“If you don’t wear brown and orange you don’t matter,” Kitchens said at his introductory press conference.
All this might sound a little hokey but only because it is.
The difference, though, is that it's not the usual hollow January pronouncement from a new Browns head coach and hopeful quarterback.
Kitchens, Mayfield Inc. built a brief but impressive portfolio over the final eight games of 2018. They’ve shown it can work over the short haul. The question is whether it will stand up to expectations that will soon grow taller than both of them.
What we can say for sure is that their dynamic is as unorthodox as it was unexpected.
“(Kitchens) is just a slappy,” Mayfield said this week. “He’s just an open communicator. He’s just himself.”
Remember that time Tom Brady called Bill Belichick “a slappy?” Me neither.
“I believe in Freddie (Kitchens) and Freddie believes in me,” Mayfield said.
There in a sentence is the antithesis of the Mayfield-Jackson relationship.
Or at least half of it.
Mayfield and Kitchens gain strength from their underdog status. That will change if success someday turns them into the division (and maybe even beyond) favorite.
But for now it’s their story. And they’re sticking to it because it’s true.
- The decision to start Tyrod Taylor over Mayfield is too easily blamed on Jackson.
Todd Haley talked Taylor up as if he were a playoff fixture.
And John Dorsey sent a third-round pick to Buffalo to acquire Taylor as part of a plan to have Mayfield get acclimated the way Patrick Mahomes did behind Alex Smith in Kansas City two seasons ago.
Was it short-sighted sitting Mayfield? Yes. But Jackson wasn’t the only one with blurred vision, buddy boy.
- Hard Knocks favorite Devon Cajuste says he is giving up football to follow his true love: the healing crystals he shared with teammates during the HBO series.
"I am leaving as an example to follow your passion, stop chasing other peoples dreams, and trust to let go," Cajuste said via TMZ. "I discovered the ability to aid people in helping themselves."
That, or prospects of playing in the spring league didn’t excite him.
- There were many memorable moments in Hard Knocks.
Mayfield telling Cajuste to “treat the ball like one of your rocks” is hard to beat.
- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is expected to mull his future in his “down time” following Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Not sure why but something tells me Gronk’s down time is my up time.
- Gronk might want to look up Jose Canseco.
Sounds perfectly reasonable.
Said Kyrie Irving, presumably.
- Critics who see the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl as serving no purpose whatsoever should keep in mind that U.S. operatives in the fight against terror have long been looking for an alternative to waterboarding.
- Roger Goodell says the league must think “outside the box” in instituting changes to the replay system that allowed a blatant pass interference that went unflagged to sink the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl chances against the Rams.
Judging how the league handled the Ray Rice discipline, Deflategate, players kneeling during the anthem and concussion prevention all those years, the goal this time should just be thinking straight, inside or outside the box.
- Goodell said this about Colin Kaepernick.
"I think if a team decides that Colin Kaepernick or any other player can help their team win, that's what they'll do," Goodell said. "They want to win and they make those decisions individually in the best interest of their club.”
The press conference ended before Goodell had a chance to say he believes in unicorns.
- Kapernick’s camp scoffed at Goodell’s take for good reason. I mean, just go down the list of backup quarterbacks who found employment in the NFL in 2019.
Then again, what do you expect Goodell to say while the league is being sued for collusion?
"Yeah, you got us. We're blackballing him."
- Kaepernick’s lawyer took issue with Maroon 5, Atlanta-based rapper Big Boi and Houston rapper Travis Scott for agreeing to appear at halftime of Super Bowl LIII.
In an appearance on NBC’s “Today,” Mark Geragos criticized the entertainers for “crossing the intellectual and ideological picket line.”
Whatever that is and whatever that means.
- Would that also apply to every person in the stadium, every commercial sponsor and everyone watching at home?
Or just the ones profiting from it? Maybe I’m just not being intellectual enough but I'm once again confused.
- Knicks center Enes Kanter was so thrilled to finally get some minutes, he kissed the team logo at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks (10-4) want to play younger big men for obvious reasons. They're tanking for Duke's Zion Williamson, too.
And they don’t want to take back salary in any deal for Kanter.
The Knicks crowd chanted for Kanter to enter the game against the Dallas Mavericks.
And still seemed to embrace him despite the fact his first shot didn’t come close to kissing the backboard, rim or net.
- "If they know the love of New York I have in my heart, they would retire my jersey," Kanter said via ESPN. "I have no problem with this organization. I have no problem with these players, teammates, coaches or the city. From Day 1, I've loved the city.”
Kanter is in limbo. That’s as tough a spot as a guy can be in.
While making $18.6 million.
- The Indians trucks have left for Goodyear. That’s always an uplifting moment, a harbinger of spring.
Curbing the enthusiasm somewhat this year is that the trucks are not expected to stop and pick up big-league outfielders along the way.
- But here’s a thought. How about we don’t bestow playoff chops on a 7-8-1 football team with a first-time head coach while dismissing the title aspirations of a team that’s averaged 96 wins the past three seasons.
At least in February.
- Patriots 27, Rams 23.
Based on my record, you are now free to load up on the Rams and feel good about it.