Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
If the first day of Freddie Kitchens’ mandatory minicamp was any indication, this Browns season is going to be quite a ride. Buckle up.
The tone was set by – who else? – Baker Mayfield, who dug his cleats squarely into the escalating Duke Johnson drama.
This is risky business for a 24-year-old quarterback entering his second season. But Mayfield is determined to enforce his leadership on a team desperately needing just that.
“You are either on this train or you are not. It is moving. You can get out of the way or you can join us,” Mayfield said in direct response to Johnson’s public affirmation to be traded.
Johnson arrived at the mandatory minicamp to avoid roughly $80,000 in fines. He insisted to team PR officials to have a press availability, according to a source, and used it to accuse the organization – essentially GM John Dorsey – of being disloyal to him.
“I want to be somewhere where I’m wanted,” Johnson said firmly. “The moment I’m not wanted anymore, I think it’s best we find a middle ground and we do what’s best for the team. There’s no need to keep me or force me to be here if you don’t want me here. I always wanted to be here and I made it very clear, especially after going 1-15 and 0-16 and re-signing here.”
Trade me sooner, not later: The crux of Johnson’s trade request is that he feels the Browns sought trade offers for him after Dorsey signed former Kansas City draftee Kareem Hunt on the rebound from his release by the Chiefs.
Johnson said he formally asked for a trade a month later because he felt the team’s loyalty was broken for good. Plus, he did not want to suffer the same fate as Carlos Hyde a year ago and be traded in the middle of the season.
“I just think it’s better for me to get ahead of this,” Johnson said. “If I’m going to be with a new team I prefer it to be before midseason just to give me a fresh start with a new team and a chance to actually make a difference and play. Because going in midseason is kind of tough, as you saw with Carlos. It’s tough just getting in there because they have their guys and their system and you have to play catch-up.”
Once it was apparent the trade market for Johnson was not going to satisfy Dorsey, the Browns took the stance that coaches had a vital role reserved for Johnson. Kitchens told NFL Network, “We will reinvent Duke and he will have a successful year with us.”
“To be fair, I heard it before,” Johnson said, effectively rolling his eyes.
Johnson said his biggest issue, though, is feeling disrespected because he committed to a three-year contract extension (for $15.6 million) after “two horrible seasons … the worst of the worst.”
“I’m big on loyalty,” Johnson said. “I felt I’ve been loyal to the organization through it all. And the moment the loyalty stops, it stops on both ends. It’s not a one-way street. But that will not stop me from doing my job and coming out and performing at a high level.”
Asked what could change his mind, Johnson said, “To be honest, nothing.”
“Again, I won’t be a disgruntled employee, won’t be causing scenes and losing focus.”
Johnson said he feels “my teammates love me. I’m pretty sure a lot of people in the building will tell you the same thing.”
But it was hard to believe Mayfield was in that group.
Do your job: Mayfield said that Johnson’s trade request was “something that we have been dealing with for a while.” He said interacting with Johnson would not be awkward because “it is self-inflicted … It is not awkward for anybody else in this building.
“He has to do his job. He said he is professional. I hope he does his job.”
There was more.
“I would not say that I am not happy about it,” Mayfield said. “It is just the way he has handled it. It can be a stir-up in the media, it can be however it wants; but if somebody wants to be here, they will be here in that situation. You have guys within our locker room that are dying to get playing time and that are dying to be here. I get it, Duke has been here for years and I respect that, but it is about what are you doing right now? The past is the past. My rookie year, I have to learn from it. I have to move forward. It is about right now and what are we going to do.”
A source said that Johnson was furious when he heard Mayfield’s remarks.
What about OBJ?: All of which overshadowed the long-awaited arrival of Odell Beckham Jr. Imagine that.
Bedecked in a bright orange sweat shirt under his jersey, bright orange long socks and bright orange football cleats, Beckham was impossible to miss.
He was spaced near the back of the line in receiver position drills, but received numerous reps with the No. 1 offense in team and 7-on-7 drills, lining up in multiple spots. Beckham’s effortless two-hand snatch above his head of a riveting Mayfield bullet in a red-zone drill was the catch of the day.
“Much like Duke did, he is going to have to know the plays when we get out here and that is expected,” Mayfield said before practice. “He will be able to handle that, but with the way that we are kind of finalizing what we want to get accomplished and how we want to go about it, it is a pretty good time for him to come in and be able to do it.”
Afterwards, Kitchens chided media who had criticized Beckham for missing eight of nine voluntary practices.
“What do you think he looked like?” Kitchens asked. “Maybe you guys spend a little time of getting to know him because he is a very bright guy and he picks up things very quickly, even over the phone.”
The first day of minicamp was so loaded with news that Beckham’s appearance in front of media was postponed until Day 2.
As Mayfield said, the train is moving now.