Baker Mayfield's NFC South arrival is great news for the Carolina Panthers

Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield's return to the NFC South represents great news for the Carolina Panthers in their quest for a division title in 2023.

It's funny how life works out sometimes. All the talk this time last year surrounded Baker Mayfield potentially joining the Carolina Panthers, which the team finally confirmed just a few short weeks before training camp in Spartanburg.

Now, the Panthers stand to go up against the former quarterback twice in 2023.

According to multiple reports, Mayfield has signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for $8.5 million on a one-year deal. This gives the No. 1 overall selection in 2018 a legitimate chance to start once again after legendary signal-caller Tom Brady finally hung up his cleats for good.

Carolina Panthers have nothing to fear with Baker Mayfield

Mayfield came with great fanfare last summer and beat out Sam Darnold for the starting job. However, his reps were mismanaged by Matt Rhule in camp and it didn't take long for the wheels to start falling off as a result.

Despite some late heroics against his old team - the Cleveland Browns - in Week 1, Mayfield was disappointing. There was just no chemistry between the player and his primary weapons and an injury suffered in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers sent him to the sidelines.

Steve Wilks gave Mayfield one final chance to prove himself. But the one-time Oklahoma phenom fluffed his lines and when Sam Darnold came back to full fitness, Carolina sent him on his way.

A significant fall from grace for the Heisman Trophy winner. However, Mayfield got himself an opportunity instantly when the Los Angeles Rams needed cover for the injured Matthew Stafford down the stretch.

Mayfield had his moments in the California sunshine, but it wasn't enough for the Rams to offer him an extension. When all hope seemed lost, the player could man the plate in Week 1 for the Buccaneers providing he beats out Kyle Trask for the job.

This should be relatively straightforward for Mayfield. It's what comes next will be far more difficult.

If last season represented the last chance saloon for Mayfield, he's way past that now. Anything less than his 2020 form will result in almost no chance of starting again in 2024 and could even see the Buccaneers turn to Trask quickly.

The Panthers won't be making things easy for Mayfield, that's for sure. Many players were around when the quarterback was a valued teammate, so they'll know all about his weaknesses and how best to exploit them.

Couple this with Ejiro Evero's presence as defensive coordinator with a scheme designed to maximize his best playmakers, and it's not hard to see why Mayfield could be a rabbit in the headlights coming up against his old employers.

The division now looks set to have Derek Carr, Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heinicke, and Mayfield as their starters. So if the Panthers get their choice right at No. 1 overall, the NFC South is there for the taking.

It's a big if. But there are now sound football figures in the building working toward a cohesive approach to assessment and recruitment - something that was sorely lacking when Rhule held absolute and stubborn power until the very end.

Mayfield will be highly motivated, there's no doubt about that. Even if his current career trajectory makes his move to Tampa Bay music to the Panthers' ears.

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