Drew Stanton patiently surveys the field and prepares to hurl a pass from the 5-yard line on the practice field at the Browns facility in Berea.
Asher, Stanton’s six-year-old son, races 10 yards ahead in a child-size version of his dad’s No. 9 jersey and turns around just in time to catch the small football, thrown with a perfect spiral.
After the catch, Asher, eager for another rep, sprints back and flips the ball to his dad.
It was one of Stanton’s favorite periods of the day: post-practice family time. He’ll always cherish those 10 minutes players have to mingle with wives, kids and friends after the long two-and-a-half hour practices that make up the bulk of the Browns’ training camp schedule.
Stanton is a 12-year veteran. He’s used to the grueling July and August schedules that require players to spend more time with their teammates than at home. At 35, most players are ready to let football go, but Stanton isn’t there yet.
“This is the toughest time of the year for me because I have to spend the night away from home, and being able to see my kids as much as possible is important for me,” Stanton said. “I'd be naive to say I haven't thought about what I wanted to do next. But at the same time, if I'm thinking too much about what I wanted to do next, I probably shouldn't want to do what I'm doing now.”
Only seven quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Schaub — are older than Stanton. Besides Schaub, each of them will likely start for their respective teams in Week 1, and the first six have arguments to enter the Hall of Fame.
Stanton likely will be the No. 2 backup to Baker Mayfield, who won the hearts of Browns fans after setting the rookie record with 27 touchdowns passes last season.
Mayfield is 11 years younger than Stanton and appears poised for a long NFL career. Stanton is in the last year of a two-year deal with the Browns and isn’t sure what will come next, but he’s not worried about that. Not one bit.
"I think it's just my competitive nature,” Stanton said. “My role changes year to year, but my mindset doesn't.”
Stanton’s role is to provide as much support and information to Mayfield as possible, but Stanton won’t call himself a “mentor.” He doesn’t know what to call that part of his role. He’s just here to help Mayfield out with whatever he needs, and that list is a tad less for Stanton in Year 2 of the Mayfield era.
Stanton, who was Cleveland’s third option behind Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor last season, is a snap away from becoming QB1, too, but that’s how it’s been for most of his career, which has weaved through stints with the Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals. His value with the Browns has been through his teaching, not playing. That might frustrate most quarterbacks, but not Stanton.
“That's the role that I want to be in,” Stanton said. “I want to be the guy out there playing, but I realize the most important thing I do isn't going to come on a football field, unless that time comes. Understanding that and approaching it that way is something I always try to do. Where's my value and where can I help people out? That's why I was brought here.”
Stanton’s value is at its highest in quarterback meetings, and those are a bit easier with Freddie Kitchens as head coach. Kitchens was Stanton’s quarterbacks coach when Stanton spent four seasons with the Cardinals, where Stanton appeared in 26 games.
Now the duo is focused on accelerating the growth of Mayfield, and the 24-year-old has already felt the benefits.
"It's a phenomenal asset to have, just being able to talk through things and having an open forum in meetings,” Mayfield said. “Just talking about how Drew ran it in Arizona, and how Freddie taught it there. Just different things and different pointers. It's a good thing for me."
Stanton isn’t sure where he’ll be one year from now. It could be back at his home in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoying retirement and watching his kids grow, something he hasn’t gotten to do as much as he’d like in the NFL.
He also might be back in Cleveland or with another team looking to add a veteran quarterback. Stanton has no idea, but he does know this: He’s ecstatic to see where the Browns go this year.
"I'm just blessed to be able to survive this long and be around great people and continue to make an impact wherever I'm at," Stanton said. "The amount of excitement right now that is brewing, that doesn't come around very often.
“I don't know what February looks like, but I'm hoping someday, I do."