Freddie Kitchens wants Baker Mayfield to 'decompress' before setting sights on 2019

Baker Mayfield was playing video games Monday. He let the entire social media world know with a single tweet from an account that boasts more than 507,000 followers.

That's exactly the kind of thing Freddie Kitchens wanted the young Browns quarterback to do in his first official offseason as a pro. More importantly to Kitchens, it's about what Mayfield isn't doing that is so important.

In his final meeting with Mayfield at the close of the 2018 season, Kitchens, who had yet to be named head coach at the time, told the Rookie of the Year candidate to take a load off. It's been a whirlwind year for Mayfield, and it dates back well before the Browns selected him with the No. 1 pick.

"He better not be thinking about anything right now because I told him to get away from football and just relax," Kitchens said last week at the Senior Bowl. "It has been a long year for him. It probably started after Georgia beat him in Pasadena. Nick (Chubb) tells him about that all of the time.

"It is crucial that those guys decompress."

Kitchens' relationship with Mayfield blossomed when he took over as offensive coordinator midway through the 2018 season. They grew closer with each passing week, and the Browns offense got better and better throughout the team's strong finish to the year.

Kitchens said the reasons they clicked were simple. It started, he said, with trust and respect.

"Once you have that established and they trust you, you can have tough conversations with them because those tough conversations are the ones that are going to get them better," Kitchens said. "That is the only thing that's going to get them better. It is not always roses and daisies or whatever. Those conversations and those opportunities to learn are what is going to make their rise in being better as a player. Ultimately, if you can make them better as a player, you will have a good relationship with them.

"Baker, I kind of like the guy, too, you know?"

Mayfield, of course, got much, much better under Kitchens' watch. In Cleveland's final eight games, Mayfield completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,254 yards, 19 touchdowns and just eight interceptions -- good for a quarterback rating of 106.2.

His strong finish, which was topped off by breaking the NFL rookie passing touchdown record, combined with the hiring of Kitchens and the subsequent hires on the coaching staff have garnered all sorts of optimism about the potential of Cleveland's offense in 2019 and beyond.

Kitchens will still be calling plays, but his responsibilities have grown immensely. He's assembled a staff that will work closely with Mayfield that features a mix of familiarity with quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley, who was the team's running backs coach for the second half of last season, and an injection of new ideas with offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who guided the league's top passing offense last season at Tampa Bay.

"What is really interesting about this is that's gonna be a great offensive room to be in with some of the ideas that are gonna be generated," general manager John Dorsey said. "Todd is very creative with a lot of his offensive packages. I would love to sit in that meeting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and just watch them install a game plan. They're both very creative."

Kitchens' vision for Mayfield centers on enhancing his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses. There's just so much time to do that before the Browns play in games that matter in September.

That's why this period for Mayfield is just as vital as the upcoming months. Kitchens wants Mayfield fresh and ready when the Browns' preparations for 2019 really start to kick into gear.

"He is nowhere near where he is going to be and where we would like to get him," Kitchens said. "There are a lot of things that go into that from a knowledge standpoint, from a personnel standpoint, from a defensive standpoint – there are all kinds of factors that factor into that. We will start chipping away when they get back. We will keep our head down and keep working and we will see where we are at in January."

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