Has Panthers QB Baker Mayfield started his last NFL game?

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Baker Mayfield
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Baker Mayfield /

Has Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield started his last NFL game after he was benched for Sam Darnold?

Baker Mayfield had one final chance to prove his worth as the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback in Week 11 at the Baltimore Ravens. However, another less-than-stellar performance from the one-time Oklahoma sensation led to another bland offensive display that canceled out an impressive outing on the defensive side of things once again.

Mayfield mustered just three points and finished with two interceptions. Something that forced interim head coach Steve Wilks into another change after announcing Sam Darnold as the team’s No. 1 option under center for their Week 12 encounter against the Denver Broncos.

Darnold hasn’t seen the field all season after suffering a high-ankle sprain during their preseason game versus the Buffalo Bills. But with P.J. Walker dealing with a similar compilation, he’s now getting thrown in when all hope seemed lost at the expense of Mayfield.

Baker Mayfield faces an uncertain NFL future

There’s a chance Darnold bombs out and Mayfield gets another shot. However, with some draft implications also attached to his snap count as part of the deal that got him from the Cleveland Browns, a scenario could emerge where the player doesn’t get reps for Carolina again.

Where that leaves Mayfield’s career aspirations beyond the current campaign is more uncertain than ever. It’s highly unlikely Carolina offers him an extension with the potential for a new head coach and college prospect coming into the fold, so much will depend on the level of interest he generates elsewhere when the time comes.

On the face of things, Mayfield is looking at a backup role next season. His ability to adapt to this role received praise from Wilks when Walker was initially preferred, but one couldn’t say with any great confidence teams will take a chance on such a polarizing figure given his clear regression over the last two years.

When analyzing his production – or lack thereof – at M&T Bank Stadium, Mayfield was clearly hurting. Whether he knew what was coming is debatable, but one cannot accuse the Heisman Trophy winner of not caring that’s for sure.

"“It sucks, to be honest with you. We prepared. I felt like the game plan, felt like everything was ready, and we just didn’t execute. And it’s tough; I’ll be honest with you. I put my heart and soul into this, and this sucks. I just hope everybody else feels the same way; I’ll be honest with you. That’s how you get things turned around. You have to care about it.”"

Mayfield won’t get the chance to right the wrongs as Darnold gets his own last-chance saloon scenario to convince Carolina or someone else in free agency that he isn’t a lost cause. But whichever way one looks at it, this might be a long road back for the No. 1 overall selection in 2018 to ever start an NFL game again.

This trade was yet another disaster at football’s most pivotal position. Carolina opted for quick fixes rather than forming a long-term strategy, which cost Matt Rhule his job and leaves the Panthers facing a complete reset for the fourth straight offseason next spring.

One could make a strong argument for Mayfield fighting a losing battle from the outset. However, it’s not like there was a queue of suitors for the quarterback and his performance levels have been far lower than even the biggest pessimist envisaged.

The fall-off from Mayfield taking the Browns to their first playoff win in 2020 is concerning and remarkable in equal measure. His fanatical fanbase will continue supporting him every step of the way no matter what, but it’s hard to look at his prospects with any encouragement whatsoever based on what’s transpired in recent months.

When it’s all said and done, Baker Mayfield might never start another NFL contest. A notion that’s gone from ridiculous to feasible in the blink of an eye.

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