Backup plan: Browns sign veteran QB Keenum to help Mayfield

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) — Case Keenum’s NFL journey is reuniting him with a coach who brought out the best in the quarterback.

Keenum officially signed his three-year, $18 million contract Tuesday with the Cleveland Browns, who are bringing him in to help mentor Baker Mayfield while also giving new coach Kevin Stefanski a security blanket in case things don’t go as planned.

Keenum spent 2017 in Minnesota with Stefanski, who was Vikings quarterback coach at the time. Keenum had a magical season with Stefanski, going 11-3 in 14 starts and getting to the playoffs. He capitalized on the performance by signing a two-year, $36 million contract the following season to start in Denver.

The 32-year-old has gone just 7-17 over the past two seasons — he was 1-7 with the Redskins in 2019 — but his experience (62 career starts) along with a deep knowledge of the position and defenses around the league should help Mayfield, who regressed after a strong rookie year.

“Case is somebody that’s seen it all and been through it all in his time as an NFL quarterback,” Stefanski said. “The experiences he brings can be great for our team as a whole. He knows this system having played in it under coach (Gary) Kubiak when he broke into the league in Houston, and obviously I have experience coaching him with the Vikings.

“I’m really excited about bringing Case the person into this group. He’s the son of a football coach, he’s a grinder, he’s a gym rat, so I think he’ll fit perfectly into the mentality we’re trying to build.”

The Browns, one of the NFL’s most active teams in free agency last week, also officially announced the signings of return specialist Jojo Natson and cornerback Donovan Olumba.

Keenum and Stefanski made a memorable connection three years ago in Minnesota.

Keenum had spent the previous two seasons with the Rams. He signed a one-year deal with the Vikings and had his finest season, completing 67 percent of his passes for 3,457 yards, 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

He led the Vikings to a divisional-round playoff win when he connected with Stefon Diggs on a 61-yard TD pass as time expired to beat the New Orleans Saints.

Keenum’s excited about being back with Stefanski.

“Coach Stefanski, I can’t say enough good things about him. I love him to death,: Keenum said. “Great friend, his family is incredible. “I’m really, really excited he’s got an opportunity to go and lead an organization as great as the Cleveland Browns. It will be his first shot as a head coach and I’m excited to be a part of what he’s going to build there.”

Mayfield took a step back last season. He struggled with his accuracy, timing, mechanics and failed to build off his first season, when he broke Peyton Manning’s league rookie record for TD passes.

Keenum said Mayfield has already contacted him.

“Baker reached out as soon as the news broke, which really meant a lot to me,” Keenum said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him for what he’s done on the field and off the field, too. First and foremost, I know my role coming in. That’s another great positive for me. I’m going to be ready to play. I feel like I’ve played at a high level for the last three years.”


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By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer