How close was the Carolina Panthers quarterback battle?

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold /

How close was the Carolina Panthers quarterback battle this offseason that eventually led to Baker Mayfield taking over from Sam Darnold?

After a long, drawn-out affair, the Carolina Panthers finally confirmed Baker Mayfield as their starting quarterback for the 2022 season. This came after an intriguing battle with Sam Darnold for the No. 1 job, with those in power opting to go with their recent acquisition from the Cleveland Browns rather than risk another year of the USC product under center.

Mayfield’s smooth transition probably made this decision a little easier, in all honesty. The Panthers now have one of the league’s most expensive backups, but it’s unlikely they’ll move Darnold considering the serious foot injury suffered by Matt Corral that is set to keep him out for the entire campaign.

Judging by what we’ve seen from both Mayfield and Darnold this offseason, it’s unlikely to be a problem. Both players handled their respective predicaments with supreme professionalism, which has improved the overall mindset within the quarterback room at a time when Carolina needs stability more than ever.

The one-time Heisman Trophy winner was always expected to win the job. Darnold can look back at his camp efforts with pride, but the Panthers didn’t covet Mayfield before, during, and after the draft for him to be holding a clipboard against his old team in Week 1.

Carolina Panthers QB competition wasn’t reportedly that close

This is a sentiment echoed by Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated in a recent article. The respected insider declared that it wasn’t a hard decision for Carolina – one that was made a lot easier by Mayfield’s application to pick things up seamlessly in a short space of time.

"“And it’s not like that decision was a difficult one for the Panthers—Baker Mayfield built a sizable lead relatively quickly, and held it throughout. But I do think, in a subtle way, it was important that he earn the job the way he did in camp.”"

Breer is right that the Panthers did right by making Mayfield earn it, to a certain extent. Darnold had things all his own way last season – as did Teddy Bridgewater in 2020 – which didn’t exactly work out en route to two consecutive five-win seasons to open the Matt Rhule era.

Providing an added sense of urgency brought the best out of both players. The end result was the same, but the benefits were there for all to see providing some timing issues are resolved before the regular season commences.

That’s the big question right now. One we won’t know the answer to until push comes to shove versus the Browns at Bank of America Stadium.

Another notable nugget dropped by Breer during his feature was expectations changing thanks to Mayfield’s impressive first few weeks in Carolina.

Mayfield was once considered as a stop-gap that could provide the Panthers with a better chance to win short-term while Corral gets up to speed. But there is now hope that the Oklahoma product can provide something more if things continue in the same manner.

"“The Panthers’ logic in getting Mayfield was to get their heads back above water at the most important position on the field. But after a month of working with him, the Panthers have hope that, maybe, Mayfield could give them a little bit more than that.”"

The Panthers got out of it what they wanted. And they clearly felt this was the right way to go in pursuit of pushing both top-five selections to bigger and better things.

Mayfield came out on top, to nobody’s surprise. But what transpires during the campaign will be the biggest deciding factor regarding this approach and whether it was the right call to make.

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