Why Panthers trade for ex-Browns QB Baker Mayfield could pay off for all parties

Former Browns QB Baker Mayfield has been traded to the Panthers -- what does this mean for HC Matt Rhule and the Carolina offense?

Finally, Baker Mayfield is no longer with the Cleveland Browns. The former top overall pick from Oklahoma and the starting quarterback has been traded to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a conditional 2024 fifth-round draft pick. The Panthers confirmed the trade via a tweet.

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Baker Mayfield traded to the Panthers for a conditional fifth-round pick

Mayfield joins Carolina after a disappointing, injury-riddled season for the former Heisman Trophy winner. The trade will be pending a physical on Thursday.

Although the Browns have agreed to pay $10.5 million of Mayfield’s $18.898 million salary with the Panthers picking up roughly $5 million of his compensation, he has accepted a $3.5 million cut in pay, according to a league source. That was the final obstacle to finalizing the deal and Mayfield’s four-year contract.

Mayfield was excused from a mandatory minicamp as he continued to rehab from offseason shoulder surgery in Austin, Texas, while awaiting the change of scenery that unfolded Wednesday.

The Browns wanted to trade Mayfield and shed as much of his $18.8 million salary as possible. And Mayfield was firm in his desire to be traded and have a fresh start.

“We want to thank Baker for all his contributions to the Cleveland Browns,” Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said in a statement. “From the moment he was drafted, he gave his all for this organization and this city. With his fierce competitive spirit, he excited the fanbase and accomplished things that no player at his position had done in Cleveland for a very long time.

“He also made a difference in the community, whether it was hosting events at the Boys and Girls Club, honoring our troops, supporting the Special Olympics as well as countless other charitable endeavors. We are grateful for everything he did for this organization and wish him and Emily well in the future.”

Mayfield, who is 29-30 all-time as a starter, is expected to compete with Sam Darnold for the starting job after joining a quarterback room that includes rookie Matt Corral and P.J. Walker.

As for the Browns, they are awaiting a potentially lengthy suspension for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Should that happen, the Browns are expected to go forward with Jacoby Brissett.

What does the Baker Mayfield trade mean for Panthers’ HC Matt Rhule and the Panthers’ offense?

While Seattle always felt like the favorite, Panthers’ HC Matt Rhule made another aggressive move in the offseason to trade for a first-round quarterback from the 2018 NFL Draft class. Rhule hasn’t had the success he’d hoped for after making the jump from college to the NFL.

The former Temple and Baylor coach was hailed as a program builder after some astonishing turnarounds at his previous two stops. However, the aura surrounding the Panthers’ coach has faded drastically over two uninspiring seasons at the NFL level.

Mayfield started 59 of his 60 games and completed 1,185 of 1,924 passes (61.6%) for 14,125 yards with 92 touchdowns and 56 interceptions. He ranks third in team history in passing yards and fourth in touchdown passes. Mayfield is the only player in Browns history to throw for 3,000 yards in four consecutive seasons.

“Baker Mayfield infused our organization with tenacity and grit during his time as our starting quarterback,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said in a statement. “Baker’s competitiveness, toughness and ability to persevere were all characteristics that endeared him to our city as well as his teammates. He will always have a unique place in Browns history for what he accomplished and we wish him well as he continues his career.”

Despite the narrative surrounding Mayfield and the warranted criticism of his play last season, he’s an immediate upgrade over Sam Darnold. Mayfield has shown flashes of brilliance in the past and even led the Browns to their first playoff birth since 2002.

The injury to his non-throwing shoulder last season magnified some bad mechanical habits Mayfield has had since his time at Oklahoma, but he’d mostly been able to get away with them.

His play deteriorated over time, but he’s far from a lost cause. Properly rehabbing the shoulder and coming back at 100% will be important, but the injury could limit the work he can do in the offseason to correct his mechanical issues.

Nevertheless, the Panthers’ offense should be improved in 2022 to better match what is a young and talented defense. They added pieces to the offensive line, an issue that exacerbated Darnold’s problems as a passer last season. They have weapons on the outside and will hopefully have a fully healthy Christian McCaffrey for 2022.

This was a move made by Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer and company to save Rhule’s job and provide some hope for the future. After last season, there were rumblings as to how much longer he would survive as head coach, just two years after owner David Tepper signed him to a 7-year, $62 million contract and paid $6 million to Baylor to buy out Rhule’s contract.

For now, that chatter will remain just a whisper until the games start being played in September. And in this current moment, the Panthers’ outlook is brighter today than it was before the trade, and their divisional outlook is intriguing as well.

The defense is young and talented, and they’ve locked up some offensive weapons. Meanwhile, Tom Brady has already retired once, the New Orleans Saints are a mystery in Dennis Allen’s first season, and the Falcons are in the midst of a total rebuild.

There is room to strike in 2023, but Carolina must take a step forward in 2022 if Rhule wants to see Year 4.

Aaron Wilson and Dalton Miller contributed to this story.

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