One of the Browns' best offseason additions might have been at a position that wasn't viewed as a "need" when the free-agent signing period began.
Case Keenum, an eight-year veteran quarterback, signed a three-year deal with Cleveland in March and is set to back up Baker Mayfield. It wasn't a deal that generated headlines bigger than other signings, such as the addition of tight end Austin Hooper to a record-setting contract, or the multi-year deal with right tackle Jack Conklin. Keenum's addition, however, might carry just as fruitful of an impact on the growth of Mayfield as he enters a pivotal third season in the NFL.
"I have come into situations where there is a competition, and I know this is not one," Keenum said in March after he signed his contract. "We knew finding a situation where there was an attractive backup job was going to be our priority, and we did that with the Browns. I know what my role is, and that's nice."
For Mayfield, Keenum could be the most ideal backup quarterback in the league. He has experience — and plenty of success — with coach Kevin Stefanski, hired by the Browns in January after spending 14 seasons in various positions with the Minnesota Vikings. Stefanski was Keenum's quarterbacks coach in 2017, when Keenum went 11-3 as a starter and advanced Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game after Keenum hurled the "Minneapolis Miracle" against the New Orleans Saints.
Keenum's job with the Browns is clear: help accelerate Mayfield's learning curve under Stefanski while providing a strong, proven option in the event Mayfield is unable to play.
"That is a huge part of why I was looking forward to being around Case," Mayfield said Wednesday in a video call with local reporters. "He was in this system, so I can hear his thoughts on how it is taught and how he reads it."
Keenum's career, which started as an undrafted free agent, began with the Houston Texans and has featured stops with the Rams, Vikings, Broncos and Redskins. He's made 24 starts since his most successful season in 2017, but he won't be the bona fide starter with the Browns.
With Cleveland, Keenum's experience will have a slightly higher value than his talents, and he can help Mayfield in more ways than his habituation to Stefanski's offensive schemes.
Check out photos of quarterback Case Keenum
Mayfield is learning his third offensive playbook since he was drafted by the Browns in 2018. He's spent each offseason of his career memorizing an entire set of new plays and formations, a routine that's not optimal for any young quarterback.
Mayfield isn't using it as an excuse, though. He knows his abilities ultimately will be the biggest factor in how successful he can be in Cleveland, and he can use Keenum — who adapted to three new playbooks with new teams in the last three seasons — as an example and resource for how to roll with change.
"He has been in a lot of systems as well, and it has not been an excuse for him," Mayfield said. "Just hearing how he visualizes certain things and certain reads has been great."
Even though Mayfield and Keenum haven't shared a practice together in Cleveland due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two have already practiced together. The quarterbacks were joined by David Njoku, Damion Ratley, Rashard Higgins and Hooper for a workout two weeks ago in Austin, Texas, Mayfield's hometown
"(Keenum) was down in Houston, so he drove up," Mayfield said. "It was great for him to be around those guys, too. It was his first time meeting a lot of them, but he is a great guy and a great veteran guy to have in the room."
Well, they're not quite in the same room yet, but they will be soon. That's where the bulk of Keenum's work will take place, and he'll be ready to support Mayfield in any way he can.
"If Baker's shoelace comes untied and he needs to maybe go get a drink of Gatorade at the water station, I am going to be ready to go," Keenum joked. "I'm excited to help bring that room together, help bring an offense together and do the best I can to be the best team player I can be."