CLEVELAND — As the Cleveland Browns' disappointing 2021 season came to an end, many found themselves focusing on the relationship between head coach Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Yet despite Mayfield publicly questioning the Browns' play-calling and admitting that he didn't feel he was always put in the best positions throughout the 2021 campaign, Stefanski said that his relationship with his starting quarterback remains strong.
“It’s good,” Stefanski said during an interview on 92.3 The Fan's 'Baskin & Phelps' on Thursday. “We talked. He’s going to get surgery, which is huge for him, and he can start the rehab process here and get ready to jump back into it.
"But Baker and I, I think we work well together. I respect him. He respects me. I push him. He understands how we operate. We’ve had two years together, and I think as a team we’ve certainly just had our ups and downs. But I do think that we push each other, and there’s definitely a level of respect there."
Stefanski's comments come less than a week after the conclusion of a 2021 season in which the Browns fell short of their sizable preseason expectations, finishing the year with an 8-9 record. One of the primary reasons for Cleveland's underwhelming campaign was the play of Mayfield, who battled injuries dating back to the Browns' Week 2 win vs. the Houston Texans.
After Cleveland was eliminated from postseason contention ahead of its Week 17 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, multiple reports alluded to an apparent disconnect between the Browns' quarterback and head coach. The alleged rift was only amplified following Cleveland's loss to the Steelers when Mayfield questioned the Browns' game-planning and the situations he had found himself in throughout the season.
"When it comes to what we've had to deal with all season, there's been a lot of ups and downs. Do I believe I could play better? Absolutely. Do I believe there's positions that we as an offense could have been put in that could have been better? Absolutely," Mayfield said. "There's so many critiques throughout the year. If there wasn't, we wouldn't be sitting here at 7-9. So it is what it is."
Yet despite Mayfield's comments, both Stefanski and Browns' general manager Andrew Berry have downplayed the idea of a disconnect with Mayfield. Furthermore, both have stated that they expect Mayfield -- who is entering the final season of his rookie contract -- to return as Cleveland's starting quarterback in 2022.
"We fully expect Baker to be our starter and bounce back," Berry said at his end-of-season press conference earlier this week.