Why the Carolina Panthers must be cautious with Baker Mayfield

(Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports) Baker Mayfield
(Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports) Baker Mayfield /

After acquiring quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Carolina Panthers might have made the right move but must proceed with caution in 2022.

As the calendar turned to July, it seemed as though the Carolina Panthers would be entering training camp later this month with Sam Darnold, rookie Matt Corral, and P.J. Walker as their top-three quarterbacks.

That all changed on Wednesday.

After multiple attempts over the last couple of months, the Panthers finally acquired Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield in exchange for a conditional fifth-round draft pick in 2024. This could turn into a fourth-rounder if the signal-caller plays 70 percent of snaps.

According to ESPN, the Browns will be paying $10.5 million of Mayfield’s salary with the Panthers paying only $4.5 million. The Heisman Trophy winner also agreed to convert the remaining $3.5 million into incentives.

It is a move nearly three months in the making.

After swings-and-misses on Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, the Panthers were patient in their constant pursuit of Mayfield as they negotiated with Cleveland on how to split up the former No.1 overall draft pick’s salary.

This is also a move that benefits both parties involved and is a low-risk/high-reward trade. While the Browns finally dump Mayfield, Carolina gave up and paid very little to acquire him.

Baker Mayfield brings hope to the Carolina Panthers

For all of the mistakes the Panthers have made at the quarterback position in the last two years or so, there is more optimism with this acquisition than there has been since Cam Newton was released in 2020.

It is the second time that head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer have made a seismic move that has rocked the organization for better or worse. The first time didn’t turn out so well, so maybe the second time’s the charm.

Let’s make something very clear: Mayfield is the best quarterback the Panthers will have on their roster since the first half of the 2018-2019 season when Newton was playing at a high level.

When healthy, Mayfield has shown the ability to be an above-average starter in the NFL. His best year was two years ago when he helped lead the Browns to their first postseason appearance since 2002.

However, it would be foolish to expect him to be the future of the franchise at the most important position on the field. Especially after trading up for Matt Corral in the third round of this year’s draft.

While his last four seasons showed more consistency than Darnold ever done, Mayfield has also struggled with inconsistency during his time in Cleveland. Since entering the league, the former Oklahoma standout leads the NFL with 56 interceptions, with Darnold having 52.

Mayfield has also dealt with drama and injuries, two factors that led to his departure from Cleveland. There was the whole fiasco with Odell Beckham Jr., playing with a torn left labrum that had an obvious effect on his play, and his handling of the Browns going after – and later acquiring – Watson while he was still on the roster.

These key issues from last year severed the relationship between player and organization, though both parties had hand in this undoing. Could Mayfield had handled these situations better? Absolutely.

Now in Carolina, there is hope that Mayfield can rejuvenate his career with a new team and overall scenery.

Carolina Panthers are taking a big risk with Baker Mayfield

One of the biggest issues as to why Mayfield threw so many interceptions in the last four seasons is because of his footwork both within and out of the confines of the pocket. When his feet were clean, he has shown to be deadly accurate.

On top of that, Mayfield has the arm talent to make any throw to all three levels of the field while having the ability to create plays off-script and out of a typical pocket structure.

Mayfield is also a fiery competitor who has always played with a chip on his shoulder while bringing a competitive edge to a locker room that has lacked it for quite a few years now. With the Browns coming to Charlotte in Week 1, you know Mayfield will want to play at his best.

There are plenty of things to like and dislike about Mayfield on and off the field. Questions remain about just how well he fits into Ben McAdoo’s scheme, how he’ll fair behind a lesser offensive line than he’s used to, and how he’ll mesh with weapons such as D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey, Robbie Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr.

Realistically, the expectation should be that Mayfield is to provide more competent play at the quarterback position while giving the Panthers a bridge for Corral as he continues to develop and grow into a potential starting role.

Could Mayfield play well enough (and maybe win enough games) to secure either an extension or the franchise tag? Only time will tell on that front, and it will certainly be discussed if and when that time comes.

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