Divorce from Browns complete, Mayfield stepping into golden opportunity
Sooners' most beloved quarterback still has every chance for NFL success
We think we know Baker Mayfield’s Cleveland story and perhaps we do.
He came on like a house of fire, off the sidelines and spectacularly into the game, one year after winning the Heisman Trophy, one year after authoring the finest back-to-back-to-back seasons a college football quarterback’s ever authored.
His sophomore effort?
Not so good, yet nor was his coach, Freddie Kitchens, who came off like a position coach handed the keys to the kingdom because, well, it’s sort of what he was.
But the next year was different. The Browns got themselves a real coach in Kevin Stefanski, put together a roster and Mayfield led it to an 11-5 regular season, took it to the playoffs and won a game once there.
The future was bright.
Then something, or many somethings, happened.
Mayfield suffered a shoulder injury but kept going.
He was ineffective, his leadership was questioned and about the time it appeared Cleveland might want to distance itself from him, it did exactly that, fantastically and awfully, trading a bunch of first-round draft picks, the most since Dallas sent Herschel Walker to Minnesota for a future that brought three Super Bowl victories, for Houston quarterback DeShaun Watson, simultaneously signing Watson to a five-year, $230 million contract, all guaranteed, never mind the 20-something women civilly accusing him of sexual assault, a fact that could keep him off the field the entirety of the coming season and maybe longer.
That about it?
Until Wednesday, when Mayfield’s divorce from the Browns became complete, his being traded to Carolina for … wait, really? No way. You’re kidding. You’ve got to be kidding.
If you know, you know.
You know it’s bewildering and amazing as a measure of how much the Browns and Mayfield wanted rid of each other, and of the Browns’ disfunction, too, having stripped the former Sooner’s trade value the moment they signed Watson, who may sit next season (and maybe longer) for $80 million more guaranteed money than any player’s ever received.
Here’s the deal:
(I swear I’m not making it up)
Cleveland traded Mayfield to Carolina for a 2024 fourth-round draft choice should Mayfield play 70 percent of the Panthers’ snaps next season and a fifth-round draft pick should he not.
Additionally, Cleveland agreed to pay $10.5 million of Mayfield’s salary next season, while Carolina will pay $4.85 million and Mayfield, owed $18.8 million, agreed to convert the difference into incentives to, as Jake Trotter wrote for ESPN.com, “facilitate the deal.”
What that means is Mayfield’s chosen to risk $3.45 million just to get out of Dodge, to be done with it, to end the soap opera … or mostly end it, because should he win the Panther starting quarterback job over Sam Darnold, and he should, the first opponent he’ll attempt leading his new team past will be, of course, the Cleveland Browns.
How about that?
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Though Sooner Nation might have preferred Mayfield land anywhere but Carolina, because who roots for the Panthers outside of Tobacco Road — I mean, could he not have landed with a franchise that existed prior to 1995 — it’s actually a fantastic opportunity.
Just maybe, an Oklahoma quarterback can still enjoy sustained NFL success.
Jalen Hurts might appear on that road in Philadelphia, but the space between his floor and ceiling doesn’t appear much. Kyler Murray is on that road, but his behavior since last season ended has done his future no favors.
Mayfield, better than both in Norman, can still be the guy everybody around here thought he’d be.
That and as he’s been motivated previously by having to walk on at Texas Tech, by not then being extended a scholarship at Texas Tech, he should be off-the-charts motivated again, having been jettisoned by a team that not only lost faith in him, but will literally be paying another team to have taken him off their hands for almost nothing.
Not to mention, Carolina is in dire need of a quarterback that makes a difference and that ought to appeal to Mayfield, too.
For those who believe Mayfield can still make it big, last season gets thrown out due to his walking wounded status, leaving three seasons, two of which were very good: a rookie year when he completed 63.8 percent of his passes, tossed 27 for TDs against 14 interceptions, earning a 93.7 QB rating; and his third season, the playoff season, when he completed 62.8 percent, 26 for TDs against eight interceptions, earning a 95.9 rating.
Would you believe each of those ratings are better than any Carolina quarterback’s earned since Cam Newton rung up a 99.4 in 2015, steering the Panthers to a 15-1 regular season and Super Bowl berth?
Would you believe the Panthers haven’t been stable at QB since Newton, whose last reasonable season was 2018, when he threw 24 TDs against 13 interceptions, rated 94.2 and ran for 488 yards on the side … and still Carolina was just 6-8 in games he started?
Kyle Allen — 17 TDs, 16 INTs, 92.1 rating, 5-7 as a starter — did little in 2019; Teddy Bridgewater — 15 TDs, 11 INTs, 92.1, 4-11 — was not successful in 2020; Darnold — 9 TDs, 13 INTs, 71.9, 4-7 — was just plain bad last season and Newton was even worse, starting five games, losing them all, compiling a non-competitive 64.4 rating.
So here comes Mayfield to save the day, a role he must relish and one he ought to begin to step into, at least, with a healthy Christian McCaffrey — 1,387 yards rushing, 1,005 receiving his last full season, 2019, since which he’s appeared in only 10 games — lining up behind him.
Though it may be narrow, there’s still a clear path by which Mayfield enjoys smashing success, finally delivering on the promise many of us believe has yet to be dashed.
Who doesn’t want a do-over?
The most beloved, celebrated and accomplished Sooner quarterback has one.