There have been few hotter topics in the NFL than the Baker Mayfield trade rumors, with several questions as to where he will land and what the former No. 1 pick’s future will look like. There’s now an answer for the first part of that question, with the announcement that Mayfield was traded by the Cleveland Browns to the Carolina Panthers earlier this month.
In the exchange, Cleveland received a 2024 conditional fifth-round pick (which can become a fourth-round selection). The Browns will pay Mayfield $10.5 million in 2022, which saves them $8 million in cash and salary-cap space. Meanwhile, the Panthers will pay him $5 million.
Joining a quarterback room in which there is still a lot of uncertainty, plenty of eyes will be on Mayfield and if he can develop a role as a starter for more than just the short-term in Carolina.
What Baker Mayfield showed in Cleveland
Mayfield got off to a fantastic start in 2021, leading the league in completion percentage through the first two games with a rate of 81.6%. Current Miami Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was the second-best in the category at the time with a success rate of 77.1%. But it didn’t take long for things to go south for Mayfield.
He finished the 2021 season with a completion rate of 60.5% — the second-lowest in his NFL career since he was originally selected first overall by the Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayield also passing for a career-low 3,010 yards with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions over 14 games.
Through the past four seasons with the Browns, Mayfield has completed 61.6% of his passes for 14,125 yards with 92 touchdowns and 56 interceptions. That’s a ratio that must improve moving forward. This came after a tremendous 2020 campaign in which Mayfield led the Browns to a surprise playoff appearance.
Despite this, there’s no question that Mayfield is an accurate quarterback and that the stat line has reflected that in the past.
He played in an Air Raid offense in college, which stresses accuracy and pure passing ability more than any other system in the existence of football. He also had two seasons in which he ended the year with a completion percentage above 70%, which is exceptional for a signal-caller in any offensive scheme. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was also consistently positive, completing his final season in Oklahoma with 43 touchdowns against six picks.
Looking at last season in Cleveland alone, it’s important to note Mayfield’s injury issues and all of the off-the-field drama that could have factored into his spiraling play. The quarterback himself, who is known for not mincing words, spoke to this. The torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder not only affected him physically, but mentally as well.
“When it started hindering my play and going downhill, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh s—. That’s when I started losing my own self-confidence and just losing myself. This past year was rough.”Baker Mayfield on 2021 injury issues, via the YNK Podcast
While we can’t say to entirely write off Mayfield’s bad moments last season, there is still something to be said about an injury that was much more damaging than was let on during 2021.
Both the apparent animosity between Mayfield and the Browns and the drama with wideout Odell Beckham Jr. had an affect on the quarterback’s overall performance. It was simply time for Mayfield to leave Cleveland as it’s safe to say that he never would have been able to grow there.
The state of the Carolina Panthers’ QB competition
There has been plenty of insistence this is a full open competition with Mayfield, Sam Darnold and rookie Matt Corral all vying for the No. 1 spot. Former XFL standout P.J. Walker is also still in the mix, even though he projects mostly as a viable backup with the way the situation is currently playing out in Carolina.
He made clear that Darnold, who played out his first year in Carolina just last season, is still very much a part of the competition. But how things shake out during summer camp remains to be seen. There’s more than a reasonable case that Mayfield could be the starter come Week 1. If not, there’s every reason to believe he will be the one with reins by the end of the season.
Even with a change of scenery, Darnold has still yet to evolve into the quarterback many expected him to be. He has only touched a 60% completion rate one time in his career and has recorded double-digit turnovers each season — something that’s partially a product of his decision-making. It has been faulty on a large number of occasions since he made the leap to the NFL.
While it’s just his second year with a new team, barring some type of exceptional rise, history suggests that Darnold will be a career backup.
Mayfield has a higher ceiling than Darnold and has flashed more to this point. It is in Carolina’s best interest to give him a shot out of the gate as long as he’s shown he can operate the offense at high level and has a solid training camp showing.
The long-term outlook for Baker Mayfield
There are a lot of variables and question marks as Mayfield enters a new situation in Carolina. There’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll overtake Darnold. That will likely come sooner rather than later. His performance and the development of the promising Ole Miss product Matt Corral will determine whether Carolina will be after yet another quarterback when the 2023 NFL Draft comes around next April.
There was a time that Mayfield was pinned as a quarterback who had a chance to become one of the best in the NFL, and time will tell if switching over to a new environment was what was necessary to make that happen.