Baker Mayfield, the crotch-grabbing, beer-chugging starting QB of the Cleveland Browns, is in line to become the next big thing in the NFL, whether you like it or not. Typing that sentence, as a Browns fan, almost blows my mind. The franchise that has trotted out Jeff Garcia, Johnny Manziel, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, and so many other mediocre quarterbacks throughout my life finally has their guy—a true star ready to lead the Browns to the promised land.
And here I am, sitting in an RV decked out in orange and brown signage while Mayfield and his newlywed wife, Emily, take a tour of the cozy palace on wheels. The luxurious vehicle is probably as spacious as most New York City apartments, but Emily jokes that it won’t be making a stop in the Mayfields’ driveway anytime soon. After all, it is the QB RV, first made famous during the last season of HBO’s Hard Knocks, but recently upgraded to help announce Mayfield’s investment in BODYARMOR sports drink.
As a Cleveland native and long-suffering Browns fan, this is my Mecca.
Mayfield’s rise to stardom isn’t going to slow down, and the attention he’s receiving isn’t going to fade. The Browns are now—for the first time maybe ever—the “it” team of the NFL. Adding Odell Beckham Jr. to an already promising up-and-coming team with a star QB will do that. With the microscope of the sports world on the Browns, Baker’s motto isn’t going to change. He’s going to do things his way, no matter what people think.
“I probably won’t ever change,” Mayfield explains while we sit in the souped-up RV. “That’s just me. I mean, there’s growing up and lessons you learn throughout life, but you know, I’m always going to be who I am and enjoy that.”
Mayfield’s story is well documented, from his time as a walk-on to a Heisman winner and the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. The public feuds have quieted in recent months, but he has beefed publicly with Colin Cowherd and his former head coach Hue Jackson, promising that he’ll never be a guy who holds back on and off the field. When I bring up Jackson’s recent comments that it’s on Mayfield to clear the air between the two, he quickly looks down with a grin and chuckles. “It’s not,” he says. And that’s that.
His approach to his naysayers has obviously ruffled some feathers, but Mayfield doesn’t seem to care. And, honestly, if the Browns win, nobody else will. But we all know that with expectations comes scrutiny. That’s not lost on Mayfield, but he’s ready for it, either way.
“What I’ve done my whole life has gotten me here,” Mayfield says. “There’s obviously improvements and things I have to work on every day, but how I handle myself and how I approach it, that can’t change.”
As Mayfield gears up for the most important Cleveland Browns season in 20 years, we sat to talk with the 24-year-old QB about wild expectations, OBJ being the best WR in the NFL, chugging beers against Tom Brady, the media rooting against the Browns, and more.
How do you mature in life but also stay true to yourself?
I probably won’t ever change. That’s just me. I mean, there’s growing up and lessons you learn throughout life, but you know, I’m always going to be who I am and enjoy that. And that’s the great part of being in Cleveland and having Emily as my wife is they know who I am. I don’t have to try and be anything other than truly myself.
I saw a tweet the other day, I think from Ken Carman, who is one of the local radio hosts. He was like, there’s never been a more perfect quarterback for Cleveland or the Cleveland Browns. What do you think about that? It feels perfect....
The city has embraced me, that’s for sure. Just going back to mentality-wise, the work ethic that people here in Cleveland take pride in. I think it’s something that I’ve done my whole life, and so it just truly fits in. I think that I was born to play here, and that’s where I can relate to the people of Cleveland.
Jarvis Landry said something interesting on the NFL 100 show. He was like, it’s best to not try and tame you, but just let you off the leash. I found that really interesting. How do you use that kind of mentality leading a team with such high expectations right now?
I’ve always been myself—not trying to be anybody else—and what I’ve done my whole life has gotten me here. There’s obviously improvements and things I have to work on every day. But how I handle myself and how I approach it, that can’t change. And I think that’s what Jarvis means is—I'm going to take care of my priorities and I’m going to focus on what I need to, and however I handle it, that’s how I need to do it.
“I think that I was born to play here, and that’s where I can relate to the people of Cleveland.”
Odell put up a caption the other day calling you guys Shake ’n Bake. Is that the official name going forward?
It hasn’t been final stamped, but it’s something in the works. We’ll see.
Do you think people forgot how good Odell is at football?
I think he’s such a real-life superstar that people do forget that he’s truly one of the greatest athletes in the world and how good he is at playing receiver and the game of football. I think he’s eager to get back out there and handle it on the field and just be himself again.
What do you think his ceiling is this year with a new team and all of these expectations? Best WR in the NFL?
I wouldn’t set it that low for him. I think he has his bar set very high, and that’s what we love around there is we’ve got a locker room full of guys that set high expectations for themselves but also want to win. And they know if you win, the individual accomplishments come with that.
“I think [OBJ is] such a real-life superstar that people do forget that he’s truly one of the greatest athletes in the world and how good he is at playing receiver and the game of football.”
Where would you rank yourself against the other QBs in the NFL? You’re up there?
I’d have to set myself up there. It wasn’t like a regular cup.
You did it your own way.
I’d like to say that, which most of my story has been my own way. I’d put myself up there against Tom [Brady]. Tom versus time, clock is ticking on how to chug a beer the fastest.
OK, so you against Stone Cold. You guys go head to head—you got it?
He used to have it.
Used to have it? Not anymore?
No. You can tell him I said that.
On the record.
He’ll come over here and kick my ass. [Laughs.]
“I’d put myself up there against Tom [Brady]. Tom versus time, clock is ticking on how to chug a beer the fastest.”
The Browns quickly went from a surprise team when you took over to having a target on their back. How will you guys deal with the expectations, especially after a loss or two, when the chatter gets real crazy?
I’d say the chatter doesn’t matter. The expectations for us within the locker room last year were higher than what we accomplished. Outside the locker room, people threw us in the trash before the season. They didn’t expect much out of us just because, the year before that, [the] Browns were 0-16. So, you know, you can only go up from there. And I think now we need to have the same mentality. It stays within that locker room. You’ve got to believe in it and take it one week at a time. Because I wouldn’t say that everybody wants to beat us. I think in the media and everything that comes with the hype around our team right now, people want to see us lose, just because the hype is so real. But we’ve got to go out there and take it one week at a time. We’re trying to win every week.
Is it weird that you guys didn’t really have a middle moment? You sort of jumped from surprise to all of this hype in one season.
It went from having excitement over Bud Light coolers being opened to now people waiting to see us lose so they can say, “Oh, they got too hyped up.” That’s why you’ve got to have an even-keel mindset when it comes to that stuff.
Is it refreshing to have a head coach like Freddie Kitchens, who seems a lot like you in the way he carries himself? You guys seem to have the same mentality.
I think it’s very beneficial for everyone on our team. You know exactly what you’re going to get. The standard is set, and he’s going to be who he is. You know the expectations—you know what’s expected every day when you come into work. And, I mean, you’re just held accountable. And I think that’s the greatest part about it is we trust everybody to do their job and to respect the fact that we have rules that are set in stone and everybody needs to fall in line with that.
“I think in the media and everything that comes with the hype around our team right now, people want to see us lose, just because the hype is so real.”
What drew you to this investment opportunity with BODYARMOR?
I think first and foremost, being an athlete, what you put in your body is very important. And then the combination of that, and it also tastes really good, helps a lot. And then what it stands for and who’s involved. A guy that I always looked up to was Kobe Bryant, and him being a main guy in BODYARMOR helps a lot. The direction they’re heading, the athletes they want to get involved. And then, you know, just everything I do. I want to give it 100 percent. And so the opportunity to be an investor and be a part of the BODYARMOR team really stuck out to me as a huge opportunity.
What was it like when Kobe came and talked to the team before the Broncos game last season?
Just getting to hear him tell a lot about his whole life story, and just enjoy that. Mentality-wise, I always loved watching him, how he competed, and then hearing some of the stories in person. Truly amazing.
How much Mamba Mentality do you think you have in you?
I would love to be able to say a lot, but he’s on another level. You can only aspire to be like that.
What kinds of things do you think you can learn from someone like Kobe, who is obviously one of the greatest athletes of all time?
Yeah, he absolutely is. But he’s also, to me, the greatest competitor of all time. He wants to win at anything he does, and he doesn’t care who he offends. He’s doing that because that’s what he wants to do. And he truly loves winning and competing. Those are the things that I took away when he was speaking to us is just truly how competitive he was. He had some stories from when he was on the Team USA basketball team and his career and not wanting to leave and wanting to have his own legacy and wanted to really create something for himself.