Panthers Acquire Baker Mayfield from Browns

It was only a matter of time until either the Panthers or Seahawks became desperate enough to finally give in and make a deal for Baker Mayfield. Carolina got it done on Wednesday, acquiring Mayfield from the Browns in exchange for a conditional 2024 5th-round pick. Mayfield is taking a $3.5M paycut to facilitate the trade, and the Panthers are only on the hook for $5M of his remaining salary, making it a low-risk deal for Scott Fitterer. Let’s take a look at what the trade means for Mayfield and both teams.

What Ended Baker Mayfield’s Time in Cleveland?

Mayfield has found his success only in even years since entering the NFL. He looked like a future star in 2018, setting a new rookie record with 27 touchdown passes, but the wheels fell off under Freddie Kitchens in 2019. Mayfield’s sophomore slump started to seem like a fluke after a strong 2020 season, when he took the Browns to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and finished the year with just 8 interceptions.

2021 began with championship hopes and ended in disappointment. While playing through a shoulder injury, Mayfield’s passer rating dropped to 83.1 and the Browns’ offense faltered in winnable games down the stretch. Cleveland decided to pursue Deshaun Watson this offseason, won the sweepstakes, and tried to trade a disgruntled Mayfield for nearly four months.

Today’s trade officially rules out Mayfield starting for the Browns during a Watson suspension. Mayfield didn’t seem too willing to return to Cleveland in recent comments, and the Browns signed Jacoby Brissett to be Watson’s backup in March, so that scenario was always more speculation than reality. Still, this is an ending few would’ve seen coming just 18 months ago, when Mayfield helped the Browns organization reach new heights. The quarterback carousel in Cleveland continues, at least until we see Watson back on the field.

What’s Next for the Panthers?

Simply put, the Panthers couldn’t go into 2022 with Sam Darnold as their quarterback. They’ve already been down that road and didn’t have a conceivable chance at playoff contention with a passer as unstable as Darnold. Mayfield probably isn’t the long-term answer for Carolina, but he at least gives them a chance to win some games they couldn’t in 2021.

Mayfield also gives Matt Rhule a chance at keeping his job. Rhule can’t survive another 5-win season. If the Panthers can show progress with Mayfield under center, the former Baylor earning a 4th year in Carolina isn’t hard to envision.

The stakes are just as high for Mayfield, who won’t easily earn another starting job if he flops with the Panthers. Because plenty of teams will be in the market for a quarterback next offseason, a bounce-back year from Mayfield could earn him a big contract. Given that drastic difference in outcomes, there is a huge amount of pressure on the Heisman winner to prove his struggles in 2021 were just the result of an injury.

Mayfield’s top targets in Carolina will be D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, along with dynamic running back Christian McCaffrey. Moore could be poised for a career-best year with Mayfield and should be high on fantasy radars. Anderson made it clear on social media in the spring that he didn’t want Mayfield coming to the Panthers, so that will be an interesting dynamic to watch. Look for Rashard Higgins, a favorite target of Mayfield in Cleveland, to emerge as a serious contributor to the Panthers’ passing game.

Carolina hosts the Browns in Week 1, which should make for must-see TV. Expect to see Mayfield under center for the Panthers, but don’t expect Watson to start for the Browns with a suspension looming.

Carolina still has issues on the interior offensive line and needs McCaffrey to finally stay healthy, but there is enough talent on both sides of the ball to say Mayfield will be out of excuses if the Panthers don’t take a noticeable step forward. He wanted a fresh start. Can he rise to the challenge?

Dan is a lifelong sports fan and recent graduate of Boston University. He created @allsportsnews on Instagram when he was 12 and continues to post sports news and rankings daily.

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