The Cleveland Browns finally managed to find a buyer for Baker Mayfield, trading the quarterback to the Carolina Panthers on July 6. But, just what impact the former No. 1 overall pick will make on his new team seems to depend on whom you ask.
Mayfield , 27, is a career 61.6% passer who has averaged 3,531 passing yards per season and has tossed 92 touchdowns to 56 interceptions, but his wildly inconsistent first four seasons make him one of the league’s most polarizing quarterbacks.
After departing a browbeaten Browns franchise, the question now becomes whether Mayfield can elevate the Panthers from NFC South also-rans to making a run at unseating Tom Brady and theTampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, does Mayfield have what it takes?
“We got a look at him twice over the past two years,” an NFL offensive play-caller told Heavy. “And he was clearly better than our quarterback. In every single aspect. I think he is much better than what everyone is making him out to be.”
Can Mayfield return to his 2020 form and lead a Carolina renaissance?
To get a sense of Mayfield’s potential at the helm of the Panthers’ offense, and just how this trade will alter the trajectories of both franchises involved in it, Heavy spoke to multiple NFL coaches, front office executives and scouts for their insights. The individuals were granted anonymity to speak freely about a player they aren’t allowed to discuss publicly.
Carolina hasn’t won a postseason game since 2015, and the Panthers are banking on Mayfield to break the streak, just as he ended the Browns’ 26-year playoff drought in 2020, when they knocked off their archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC wild-card game.
“Remember, just two years ago, he was winning playoff games in Cleveland,” one coach pointed out. “And everybody loved him. Now, there’s this whole narrative that people think he stinks. I really hope he goes down to Carolina and tears it up. I love the way this kid competes.”
Mayfield is in the final year of his rookie contract and has all the motivation in the world to play well. A strong season could position him to sign the kind of mega-extension that would catapult him into the realm of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.
“If he gets back to what made him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Carolina will be getting a total steal,” an AFC South scout told Heavy. “But, for Baker, the main thing has to be the main thing — again. He has to let his play do the talking.”
Not everyone believes that Mayfield, who owns a career 29-30 record (and a horde of comical insurance commercials), will be a transcendent figure for the Panthers’ franchise.
“The problem with Baker Mayfield is that he tries to do too much at times,” an AFC director of college scouting told Heavy. “And he isn’t talented enough to be a consistent playmaker, like someone like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen.”
What Mayfield does have going for him in Carolina is a young and burgeoning set of explosive playmakers: wide receivers Terrace Marshall, Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore. And, of course, an All-Pro caliber – and versatile – running back in Christian McCaffrey.
“If those playmakers stay healthy,” the scouting director said, “Baker can add a dimension to that team that they haven’t had. In a division that’s as wide open as the NFC South is, I like the move.”
Did the Panthers or Browns ‘Win’ the Mayfield Trade?
In order for the Browns to move Mayfield, Cleveland had to make a significant financial commitment.
Cleveland will wind up paying Mayfield $10.5 million this season, which, perhaps fittingly, opens with a Week 1 clash against the Panthers. Carolina will pick up the tab on only $5 million of Mayfield’s remaining salary.
Mayfield can recoup the $3.4 million he opted to forgo in order to facilitate the trade if he hits incentives, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
But by unloading a disgruntled player and fully turning the page to Deshaun Watson at starting quarterback did Cleveland wind up “winning” this trade?
Not quite. The Panthers had to give up only a conditional fifth-round pick in 2024 and got his former team to pay most of his salary.
“This was an absolutely great trade for the Panthers,” an AFC offensive coach told Heavy. “On top of getting a really good quarterback, Carolina hit a home run when it comes to the value on the trade.”
Before Mayfield can reach the incentives to regain his full contract value, he’ll first have to beat out Sam Darnold for the starting job during training camp, which starts July 27.
At this stage, that feels like a formality.
“A franchise that didn’t have a functional quarterback before the trade now has one after making this deal,” an NFC quarterback coach told Heavy. “It’s really that simple.”
What Will Make Trade a Success for the Panthers?
There’s an adage in the NFL that if a franchise has two, or even three, quarterbacks then they really have none.
That might not be the case in Carolina.
Because the Panthers chose Matt Corral in the third round of the 2022 draft, Matt Rhule’s team now has, at minimum, a bridge (Mayfield) and a potential long-term starter (Corral) in the fold. And they have a possible trade chip, in Sam Darnold.
In a lot of ways, Mayfield controls both his and the Panthers’ destiny.
If Mayfield plays to — or exceeds — expectations, he’ll be rewarded handsomely and given another chance at becoming a franchise quarterback.
But if Mayfield falters, Carolina can either move forward with Corral or roll the dice in the 2023 draft.
The should get a strong sense of whether this was the right move pretty quickly this upcoming season.
“If Baker comes out and becomes a distributor of the football rather than trying to be the guy who makes all the plays, this will be a successful trade for Carolina,” the scouting director said. “McCaffrey and Moore are really dynamic playmakers, and Baker has to realize that. That will ultimately dictate just how successful the Panthers and Baker have the chance to be.”