Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday his relationship with quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn't changed over the past year.
"It's no different. Good relationship," Stefanski told reporters.
Questions were raised about the Stefanski-Mayfield dynamic since Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported Wednesday the tandem needed to "hash things out and find a path forward" to remain in place for 2022 after "differences" had emerged amid a 7-9 season.
"Clickbait," Mayfield wrote Thursday on Twitter in response to that report. "You and many other Cleveland local media continue to be drama stirring reporters with no sources or facts. Don't put words in my mouth so you can put food on your table. I'm not your puppet."
It's been a frustrating year for the Browns on the heels of a 2020 season when they posted an 11-5 record and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs before falling short against the eventual AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.
That success combined with some high-profile free-agent signings, headlined by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Troy Hill, pushed Cleveland into the championship conversation to open the 2021 campaign.
A memorable year never materialized as the Browns hovered around .500 for most of the regular season before their current three-game losing streak eliminated them from playoff contention.
Mayfield's struggles were a major factor in the team's drop-off. He showed substantial improvement in 2020 with a 26-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but the 26-year-old couldn't build off that this season while playing through injuries that included a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The University of Oklahoma product completed 60.5 percent of his throws for 3,010 yards with 17 TDs and 13 picks across 14 appearances. He ranks 26th in ESPN's QBR (35.3) and owns a lackluster 63.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
While Cleveland has fallen well short of expectations, Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt told reporters Thursday he hasn't witnessed any issues between Mayfield and Stefanski:
"No, absolutely not. I have seen zero of that. Kevin is in our meetings every day. He comes in, and we talk through everything that was installed every day. I know the line of communication is wide open between those two guys. I know they have met weekly on Tuesdays to make sure everything was good. I do not feel that at all. I do not. Kevin has always been open and very communicative with all of the players and coaches, as well."
Mayfield will miss Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals because of his non-throwing shoulder injury. ESPN's Jake Trotter reported the quarterback will undergo surgery Jan. 19 and could return in time for organized team activities in the spring.
The Browns may look for a quarterback upgrade during the offseason, but a mediocre group of free-agent signal-callers and a lack of standout QB prospects in the draft could make that difficult barring a blockbuster trade.
So there's a solid chance both Mayfield and Stefanski return in 2022 as Cleveland attempts to bounce back from a forgettable season.