On Sept. 30, 2018, Baker Mayfield made his first career NFL start, completing 21 of 41 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a loss to the Oakland Raiders. In the time since then, no one else has started a game at quarterback for the Browns.
Those 44 consecutive starts make up the longest streak since Brian Sipe started 70 games from 1978-1982. But that streak could come to an end Thursday.
After initially sustaining a left shoulder injury on Sept. 19 against the Houston Texans, Mayfield reaggravated the injury in Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals. At his media availability on Tuesday, Mayfield said that his left labrum is completely torn and that it’s his decision as to whether or not he plays against Denver on Thursday.
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 19, 2021
If Mayfield can’t go against the Broncos, backup quarterback Case Keenum will become the most important person in Northeast Ohio. With all that in mind, here’s what you need to know about the quarterbacking options behind Mayfield.
Career stats: 10th year in the league, 27-35 record as a starter, 14,420 passing yards, 75 touchdowns, 47 interceptions.
Keenum is the textbook definition of what you want in a backup quarterback. While he’s a proven player that most coaches would be comfortable manning their offense, he’s not good enough to create any kind of controversy when the starter struggles.
After going undrafted in the 2012 draft, Keenum, who played college football at the University of Houston, signed with the Houston Texans and spent 2012 on the team's practice squad. Keenum made his pro debut in 2013, throwing for 1,760 yards with nine touchdowns
and six interceptions in eight starts. Keenum appeared in two games for the Texans in 2014.
From there, Keenum spent two years with the Rams organization, the first of which was the team's last season in St. Louis and the second of which was its first season in Los Angeles. He was the Rams' primary starter in 2016, recording 2,201 yards passing with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
His best season came in 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings. With current Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski serving as his quarterbacks coach, Keenum had a career year, earning an 11-3 record as a starter while throwing for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. All of that came after he took over Minnesota’s starting duties in week two after an injury to Sam Bradford. In the NFC Divisional game, Keenum took part in one of the most memorable plays in recent NFL history, tossing a game-winning touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs in the Vikings’ 29-24 win over the New Orleans Saints, a play that has since been dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle.”
Keenum turned his 2017 performance into a starting gig with the Broncos in 2018 where he led Denver to a 6-10 record (while throwing for a career-high 3,890 passing yards) before being traded to the Washington Football Team, where he started eight games, in 2019.
On March 24, 2020, Keenum signed a three-year, $18 million deal to be Baker Mayfield’s backup. He’s appeared in four games with the Browns, completing 6 of 13 passes for 52 yards. If Keenum does start on Thursday, it’ll be his first start since Dec. 29, 2019.
Last week ESPN ranked Keenum as the third-best backup quarterback in the league, only trailing Chicago’s Andy Dalton and Miami’s Jacoby Brissett. In many ways, Keenum is a poor man’s Baker Mayfield — while he’s probably not going to win you a game himself, he’s capable of going out there and keeping his team in it. And if the game plan is right, he can keep an offense
moving down the field. While any offense led by Keenum is going to have a definitive ceiling, it's also going to have a floor that’s higher than most offenses led by a backup quarterback.
Fun fact: The last time the Browns played the Broncos on Thursday night on Dec. 15, 2018, Keenum was the Broncos starter, throwing for 257 yards and two interceptions in the Browns’ 17-16 win. Baker Mayfield went 18-for-31 with 188
yards and two touchdowns in the win. Time is a flat circle.
Career stats: 4th year in the league, 5-11 record as a starter, 4,714 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, 22 interceptions
There are definitely worse options to have as your third quarterback. If Mayfield can’t go on Thursday, it’s safe to assume that Mullens would get the call up from the practice squad to be Keenum’s backup. With 16 career starts, Mullens is one of the most experienced practice squad arms in the NFL. After going undrafted 2017, Mullens signed with the San Francisco 49ers and spent 2017 on the team's practice squad. On Nov. 1, 2018, Mullens made his first career start after injuries to San Francisco quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns with a near-perfect passer rating of 151.9.
Mullens played in eight games in 2018, throwing for 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. After appearing in one game (without throwing a pass) in 2019, he played in eight games last season — once again in relief for Garoppolo —
throwing for 2,437 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He suffered a season-ending elbow injury on Dec. 20, 2020, against the Dallas Cowboys.
After being non-tendered by the 49ers in the offseason, Mullens signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he spent all of training camp and the preseason but was waived after the Eagles traded for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew. Mullens signed with the Browns on Sept. 1.
All of this comes with a big caveat. If Mullens sees any action this year, that means something horrible has happened. That said, Mullens, like Keenum, has proven that he can be a competent NFL quarterback. Will the Browns have any success with him as their long-term quarterback? Probably not. But can he tread water while the team figures out what’s next? Probably.