The Browns can move into a three-way tie with the Bengals and Ravens if they earn a win over the Raiders in their Week 15 game on Monday afternoon.
If they’re going to win, it will have to be without their starting quarterback.
Baker Mayfield will not be suiting up for the Browns against the Raiders. He is sidelined, along with backup quarterback Case Keenum, meaning that third-string quarterback Nick Mullens will be forced to start the most important game of the Browns’ season to date.
Why isn’t Mayfield able to play? Here’s what to know about the Browns’ quarterback situation in Week 15.
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Why Baker Mayfield isn’t playing vs. the Raiders
Mayfield was a victim of the Browns’ COVID outbreak in Week 15. He tested positive for the virus on Wednesday and was presumed out for the Browns-Raiders game, which was originally supposed to be played on Saturday
However, the NFL moved the game back two days to Monday to stop the spread of COVID at the Browns’ facility. That left Mayfield extra time to test out of the NFL’s COVID protocol. and he was hopeful that he would be able to do so. He explained in a post to his Instagram story that he had been asymptomatic during his whole stay on the COVID list.
However, he still couldn’t produce a negative test in time for the game. As a result, he will be unable to play even despite the NFL’s slightly relaxed stance on COVID protocol.
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Why don’t the NFL’s new COVID rules allow Baker Mayfield to play?
The NFL made some changes to its COVID protocols following the league-wide outbreak that caused over 100 players to land on the reserve/COVID list. The league’s most notable change was the decision to do away with the weekly testing of vaccinated, asymptomatic players and replace it with “targeted testing.”
Starting in Week 16, the NFL will only test players if they present as symptomatic, are a high-risk vaccinated contact or wish to voluntarily test. Hypothetically, since Mayfield is asymptomatic, he would not be required to test under the NFL’s new COVID rules unless he was chosen for a random spot test, which will be infrequent.
However, players already on the COVID list aren’t subject to those rules yet. They will largely go into effect in Week 16. Additionally, Mayfield had already produced positive tests, so even if that new protocol had been enacted, he would have needed to test negative to get off the reserve/COVID list.
Essentially, the new rules protect you from being tested if you are asymptomatic and vaccinated. But they don’t protect you from the COVID list protocols if you do happen to test positive, even as a vaccinated, asymptomatic player.
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Why Browns are starting Nick Mullens, not Case Keenum
Like Mayfield, Keenum also landed on the COVID list and was unable to test negative in time to play in Monday’s game. That knocked Cleveland’s top two quarterbacks out of the game and opened the door for Mullens to start.
Mullens was picked up by the 49ers in 2017 after going undrafted out of Southern Miss. He made 16 starts as a backup to Jimmy Garoppolo and appeared in 19 games during his three years in San Francisco.
Mullens is not your ordinary third-string quarterback. He is a five-year NFL veteran who has a solid amount of starting experience, so the Browns will rely on that experience to help them in a game that could make or break their playoff chances. He has passed for 4,714 yards, 25 touchdowns and 22 interceptions during his career, but he has just a 5-11 record as a starter.
Ironically, Mullens’ first career start came as a third-string quarterback against the Raiders. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-3 blowout victory for the 49ers. He will look to recapture that magic in this matchup.
Browns QB depth chart
With both Mayfield and Keenum out, the Browns’ depth chart will be thin. In fact, their backup quarterback, Kyle Lauletta, signed with the team just three days ago.
Lauletta does have some experience with the Browns’ system, as he spent most of the 2020 NFL season on Cleveland’s practice squad. He also spent the 2021 NFL offseason with the Browns before being released among the team’s final cuts in August.
It’s unclear who the Browns’ emergency quarterback behind Lauletta would be. ESPN’s Jake Trotter wrote that Jarvis Landry would normally be the option, but he too is on the COVID list. As such, the Browns better make sure Mullens and Lauletta stay healthy if they want to avoid running the Wildcat with Nick Chubb all day.