A couple of weeks before the Cleveland Browns opened training camp, they resolved the hanging issue with quarterback Baker Mayfield, who lost all motivation to continue playing for the team after trading away colleague Deshaun Watson. Mayfield was traded to Carolina for a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft (depending on how long the quarterback plays for the new team, the draft pick could go up to the fourth round).
Mayfield wanted to change teams, Cleveland wanted to get rid of an $18.6 million quarterback under the salary cap, Carolina wanted to find a quarterback more interesting than Sam Darnold. It seems like all parties should be satisfied.
What it means for Cleveland Browns
The Browns have a lineup ready to win in the playoffs here and now for the first time since the club was revived in Cleveland. They had a quarterback who, for all his minuses, was winning the playoffs, and their poor performance last season has a very tangible explanation: injuries. “Cleveland decided to take a risk and improve the starting quarterback position by trading Deshaun Watson from Houston for three first-round picks plus change. That trade effectively burned bridges between Mayfield and the Browns.
What do the Browns have now? Watson, who will be suspended for at least one season. Mayfield, who the club will pay most of his salary. And the starting quarterback remains Jacoby Brissett, not a bad understudy, nothing more. “The Browns have already given up their future for wins here and now. In a year, the team will be weaker in personnel terms — someone’s contract will run out, the running backs will have exhausted some of their resources, and there will be no high draft picks.
What it means for Carolina Panthers
You can feel all you want about Baker Mayfield, but the fact is that Carolina improved its quarterback position by getting a starting caliber player in the fifth round of the draft and $4.85 million in payroll. That’s a clear win, even if you don’t remember that a healthy Mayfield looks pretty good on the field (at least twice as good as Darnold). But you can remember what Carson Wentz (two third-round picks plus a second-round pick exchange), Indianapolis’ Matt Ryan (third round + $54 million over two years), and Carolina’s Darnold (second, fourth and sixth + $18 million guaranteed) cost Washington.
At the end of the season, the Panthers will be able, to sum up, Mayfield’s tryouts without any major financial repercussions. If they like him, they’ll extend him. If they don’t like it, they’ll break up. And that, by the way, is the only consolation for Sam Darnold in this whole sad situation for him – Carolina won’t be putting Mayfield in just because of the capital spent on him.
What it means for Baker Mayfield
Mayfield was lucky. Even if Watson hadn’t been traded, Cleveland probably would have parted with him either before this season or next – otherwise, a long-term contract with the point guard would have already been signed. And while Carolina’s roster isn’t up to Cleveland’s level, it’s been well shored up this offseason, especially on the offensive line (plus Tackle Ikem Ekwonu, center Bradley Bozeman and guard Austin Corbett). He will also have great pass rushers in D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey.
A confident Mayfield inside a quality envelope is capable of playing at the level of an average starting quarterback by NFL standards, and for Carolina, that’s already a quantum leap from the Sam Darnold era and some of his predecessors. In fact, he’s in the same situation as he was in Cleveland at the time of the draft — before him, the bar for point guards was set very low. He raised it himself and failed to live up to it. And if Darnold only saw ghosts, Mayfield will have to battle them – with memories of the late Cam, Bridgewater, Allen.
Most importantly Carolina will play Cleveland as early as week one. It’s not about trivial revenge. “The Browns will pay their former quarterback half a million dollars to try to beat them in a face-off.