For the Cleveland Browns, the Biggest Win Is Stability

BEREA, Ohio — Baker Mayfield reported to Cleveland Browns training camp in July sporting a mustache. And because he is Baker Mayfield, and because he plays quarterback well — a phenomenon largely alien to these parts — he was asked after a recent practice about the provenance of that mustache. Sorry, he said, no can do.

“That’s the elegance of having a mustache,” Mayfield said. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The possibilities are boundless for this team. Beyond Mayfield, who is as likely to stare down his former coach after a long completion as he is to bite into a can and shotgun a beer at an Indians game, the Browns pilfered the provocative receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants, adding him to a roster so laden with premium talent and flair that cameras should trail them all season.

Oh, wait.

That kinda sorta happened last summer, when the HBO sports documentary series “Hard Knocks” alighted upon Browns headquarters. The show introduced the public to Mayfield’s quarterbacks-only R.V. and the former defensive end Carl Nassib’s financial literacy, but it also exposed signs of the internal discord that triggered a midseason coaching purge.

The Browns’ marketing department would love the team to participate in the show every season. The staffers on the football side, though, would rather soak their contact lenses in habanero juice. It’s the team’s on-field potential that is, finally, its pathway to relevance.

“That’s a good word,” said guard Joel Bitonio, who is playing for his fourth coach in six seasons in the league. “Starting up top, Dorsey’s really trying to keep upstairs quiet, and I think Coach Kitchens feels the same. It works its way down to the players. If we have issues, we’ll talk it out. And that’s going to make us a better team.”

Kitchens refuses to abide anything, or anyone, that encroaches on his goal of winning the Super Bowl; he has vowed to fire any assistant caught leaking information to the news media. But he has endeared himself to players by encouraging them to flaunt their personality, as long as their behavior doesn’t hurt the team.

The Browns have held social media tutorials to reinforce what they hope players already know: not to spread, as Bitonio put it, anything their grandmothers wouldn’t feel comfortable reading or seeing. So, Beckham’s personal YouTube channel? Fine by Kitchens.

“He’s not abusing his power for a first-time head coach,” receiver Jarvis Landry said of Kitchens. “He has a really good grip on things. He’s really just taken control of the situation.”

That has meant finding the right balance of letting ebullient stars like Mayfield and Beckham be themselves while minding the attention the Browns have been receiving for months. Mayfield’s R.V. is back for another season, as is his pregame air-drum routine to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” Both Beckham’s appearance in a kilt at the Met Gala and his new haircut — he shaved off his bleached blond curls — have caused a hubbub on the internet, but the new do had its own moment at the ESPYs.

Whenever linebacker Joe Schobert went to a sports bar in his native Wisconsin this off-season, there was about a 50 percent chance, he said, that ESPN was yapping about the Browns. Dave Freeman, the team’s senior vice president for media and marketing, said overall engagement on the Browns’ official YouTube channel has soared, with 74 percent of all views coming from outside Ohio, up from 65 percent in 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *