In 2020, Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield and WR Rashard Higgins will be playing a big part in both bouncing back from less than ideal 2019 campaigns. And while Mayfield may appear to have a much more solid footing, the same cannot be said for Higgins. In fact, Higgins will be relying on Mayfield to spark a comeback in 2020. But can the same be said for Mayfield, who may also be relying on Higgins?
Higgins had a breakout year in 2018 but then played the role of Houdini in 2019 disappearing from gameplans and crucial plays when he was in the lineup. Was it due to issues with then General Manager John Dorsey? Was it due to a falling out with then-head coach Freddie Kitchens?
We don’t know. But what we do know is that Mayfield missed Higgins after building a connection with him during his rookie campaign. Higgins was coming off career-high numbers with Mayfield under center and even though the team acquired Odell Beckham Jr. last offseason, the expectations were still high for Higgins.
What would follow would be just one storyline in a season-long of questions and concerns for the Browns. This is one that can be spun properly with a new staff and renew confidence from Berea to the shores of Lake Erie.
Mayfield formed a connection with Higgins
Coming off a college career that saw him as a Biletnikoff finalist in 2014, Higgins was drafted by the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft.
He would find intermediate success in a role that didn’t see much action until in 2018 when Mayfield arrived after being selected first overall. Higgins would prove to be one of his most trusted targets throughout all of 2018 when he racked up career highs in targets (53), receptions (39), yards (572), touchdowns (4), and most importantly, first downs (27).
27 first downs on 39 catches demonstrates that Mayfield trusted Higgins and he was his undisputed safety blanket for 2018.
A promising first drive for Higgins in 2019
The 2019 season would kick off against the Tennessee Titans. Expectations were high after an eventful offseason. Mayfield and company were expected to compete for a division title and maybe even more. Higgins was expected to play a major part in that success and after one drive it seemed he would be.
Higgins would be targeted three times, make two catches, and rack up 46 yards receiving on the opening drive that ended in a touchdown. Everything was going according to plan until Higgins would injure his knee in the game and be out for several weeks. Eventually, his health would become a question of the media and for Higgins himself.
Did Freddie Kitchens send Higgins to the dog house?
Following a loss to the Seahawks that sent the team to a 2-4 record on the year, reporters questioned then head coach Freddie Kitchens about the status of Higgins. Questions arose after Higgins stated he was healthy enough to play but didn’t. When asked for an explanation, Kitchens simply said he didn’t fit any “situations” in the game.
Kitchens was then asked if Higgins was in the dog house and Kitchens simply stated “no, he is not”. Higgins would only appear in eight games for the rest of the year.
Mayfield shows support for Higgins in an uncertain time
After a nightmare season, Higgins found himself to be an unrestricted free agent. The Browns management and coaching staff had been removed and replaced with a new analytical approach. As a result, Higgins’ future remained cloudy.
What was never in doubt was the faith Mayfield had in his security blanket who was now floating in the wind. Mayfield wanted Higgins back for the 2020 season and he was going to do what he could to make it happen.
Jake Trotter of ESPN reported back in May that Mayfield reached out to Higgins before Cleveland offered him a veteran minimum deal. Trotter also reported Higgins coming back to Cleveland was in large part to Mayfield’s constant pursuit. And, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com even reported Higgins turned down more money elsewhere.
For Higgins, turning down more money and a possibly bigger role speaks volumes to what type of relationship he has with Mayfield.
What Higgins returning to Cleveland means for the Browns
Whether you are a fan of traditional scouting or analytical based, Higgins is accepted by both parties. Higgins saw a large role with John Dorsey, Hue Jackson, and Kitchens in 2018 before a dive in 2019. So, we know those with the traditional approach to football likes him, his traits, and abilities.
For the analytics crowd, new general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski bringing back Higgins demonstrates that they also have some semblance of faith in Higgins. Perhaps it was Mayfield who pushed for the return of Higgins. Perhaps it was something they saw in their analytics and on film that gives them hope the tandem of Mayfield and Higgins would blossom.
Their true feelings regarding Higgins will be known when the depth chart is finalized. We know that the Browns drafted Donovan Peoples-Jones in the sixth round of this past April’s draft. While Higgins wasn’t on the roster at the time, we also know that the Browns are paying Higgins the veteran minimum.
How this all shakes out remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – Stefanski will have plenty of weapons to gameplan around this coming season.
Will Higgins be able to get himself on the field?
With a loaded receiving group and newly signed tight end Austin Hooper, Higgins is going to find himself in an interesting situation.
One big advantage he has going for him is that he is going to be a familiar face in the crowd and a trusted target for Mayfield. When a play is needed, we just might see Mayfield looking Higgins’ way more often than not.
In 2020, Higgins will be relying on Mayfield for not only targets on the field, but also as a vocal supporter behind the scenes. For the two of them, the expectations will be high. Hopefully, the second time will be the charm because there likely won’t be a third time.