After much speculation, the Browns have officially shipped former No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick.
In less than five years, Mayfield has gone from Heisman Trophy winner to first overall pick to Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up to Cleveland’s savior to feuding with his top wideout to draft bust to fighting for a starting spot with Sam Darnold. It’s been a wild ride.
It’s funny—Mayfield and Darnold were the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2018 NFL draft. Mayfield was obviously the first overall pick and Darnold was the third pick. Giants’ running back Saquon Barkley separated the two. However, this isn’t the first time the first two quarterbacks taken in the same draft ended up playing on the same team. The last time it happened was in 1991 when 1988 draftees Chris Chandler and Tom Tupa both wound up on the then Phoenix Cardinals. Chandler started the season as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but joined the Cardinals in Week 11, the final game that Tupa started for the Cardinals that year. Chandler would start the final two games of the regular season for Phoenix. That’s not important though.
What is important is how this will affect the Panthers and Browns. The Browns have some enormous balls to pull off a move like this. With the whole Deshaun Watson situation up in the air still, the fact that the Browns were willing to send Mayfield, someone who knows their system and has even led the team to a postseason victory before, away...that’s gutsy, and probably a terrible move given that the next guy in line is Jacoby Brissett. Perhaps the NFL will shift course and decide not to suspend Watson for the entire 2022 season, but even if the suspension is six games, that means Watson would be forced to miss games against the Chargers, Steelers, Patriots, and ironically, the Carolina Panthers (more on that in a second). At best, the Browns could start the season 4-2 then get Watson back for the toughest part of their schedule—at Baltimore, Cincinnati, at Miami, at Buffalo, Tampa Bay, at his former team Houston (gotta have a gimme in there somewhere), at Cincinnati, Baltimore, and New Orleans. Basically, Watson would immediately get thrown into the fire and 4-2 in their first six games might not cut it. Of course, this is all under the presumption that Watson is only suspended for six games, which seems highly unlikely at this point. Anything more and Browns’ fans can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
As for the Panthers, Mayfield is a marginal upgrade over Darnold. However, given Mayfield’s history with upsetting star receivers, there’s always a chance that Mayfield could start looking away from DJ Moore, opting instead for guys like Terrace Marshall or Robby Anderson. Moore did sign a massive contract extension prior to the season though, so perhaps he’ll give Mayfield a little more leeway than OBJ did. Mayfield already has a history with the Panthers’ No. 2 receiver Robbie Anderson. In April of this year, when it was first reported that Mayfield’s most likely landing spot was Carolina, Anderson commented “Nooooo” on an Instagram post relaying that information. That’s five O’s worth of “no.” Then, when pushed on the subject, Anderson doubled down, commenting “Facts.”
What I’m most worried about is Mayfield’s pocket presence behind a subpar offensive line though. Mayfield has had the luxury of playing behind one of the best O-lines in football for most of his career. In 2021, Cleveland had the best run-blocking line in the NFL, and while their pass-blocking stats left a lot to be desired, many of those figures can be blamed on Mayfield’s lack of awareness, as well as the absence of both Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin for much of the season. Even with those absences, Pro Football Focus ranked the Browns’ O-line as the eighth-best in the NFL following the 2021 season. In every other year of Mayfield’s career, the Browns have ranked top-20 in adjusted sack rate. Since 2019, the Panthers have never finished better than 20th in adjusted sack rate just once.
The Panthers made an effort to improve their offensive line during the offseason, but a rookie at left tackle probably isn’t going to be enough to overcome all the deficiencies that unit displayed last year. It will definitely help, but it probably won’t cloak all the other holes, especially in a division that features Shaq Barrett, Cameron Jordan, and Grady Jarrett.
Even if Christian McCaffrey is healthy for the entire season, it is unlikely to help Mayfield’s play. The Browns have had one of the most formidable rushing attacks in the NFL the last few years, and yet Mayfield has continued to look like a wet noodle throwing duck after duck behind the line of scrimmage. It’s clear that a great running game won’t help Mayfield enough to make the Panthers playoff contenders.
The biggest loser in this trade has to be Matt Rhule though. I don’t have to remind anybody how hot his seat is. There are many people who assume he will be the first head coach fired in the upcoming season. The addition of Mayfield will only expedite his departure. If the Panthers struggle with Darnold under center, fans will start clamoring for Mayfield to take over the starting role. Then, when the Panthers inevitably continue to crumble with Mayfield at quarterback, the blame will rightfully shift to Rhule. Maybe Matt Corral can emerge as a top-tier talent and save Rhule’s job, but I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s gotta be a reason why he fell so far in the draft.
If Mayfield does earn the starting spot for the Panthers Week 1, he’ll immediately get a shot at revenge as the Panthers will host the Browns. If Jacoby Brissett is starting for the Browns, then it’s very likely that Carolina walks away with the dub. Just imagine the shade Mayfield would throw at the Browns if he won, that would be a legendary day on Twitter. That being said, even with Brissett at QB, the Browns would put up a good fight. The Panthers don’t boast a defensive line that can compete with the talent on the Browns’ offensive line. I love me some Brian Burns and Derrick Brown, but I love me some Wills, Conklin, Bitonio, and Wyatt Teller more. But for the sake of Mayfield’s pettiness, I hope the Panthers pull it out.