Wednesday’s Baker Mayfield trade came after months of negotiating. It appears the mid-June ramp-up in Browns-Panthers talks led to an agreement fairly soon after, but the ball fell into the quarterback’s court. Mayfield agreeing to trim $3.5MM from his salary satisfied the Panthers.
The teams had this deal in place for nearly a month, according to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones and former Browns GM Michael Lombardi (Twitter links). In pitching the slight pay cut to Mayfield, the Panthers pointed to the potential for the former No. 1 overall pick making up the difference by boosting his value for the 2023 free agent market, Jones adds. Mayfield, who was attached to an $18.9MM salary, can also earn back the money through 2022 incentives. Mayfield follows Odell Beckham Jr. in sacrificing some money to facilitate a Browns exit.
The interest in this interconference trade notwithstanding, David Newton of ESPN.com adds the deal will still precede a Mayfield-Darnold competition. Mayfield will be favored to win a training camp contest against incumbent Sam Darnold, who was chosen two picks after him in the 2018 draft. As for the conditional draft choice the Browns will receive, Mayfield’s former team will need to root for him to beat out Darnold. The pick will upgrade to a 2024 fourth-rounder if Mayfield plays at least 70% of the Panthers’ snaps, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. Otherwise, it will become a fifth.
This battle’s winner will take the reins of a Panthers team that could feature a much better offensive line — one that added left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, center Bradley Bozeman and guard Austin Corbett, whom the Browns chose one round after Mayfield in 2018 — compared to its 2021 version and a receiving corps of D.J. Moore, Robbie Anderson and 2021 second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. The prospect of a healthy Christian McCaffrey has taunted the Panthers and their fanbase for two years now, but the former All-Pro running back is returning to his spot as well. Mayfield appears to be planning to gather Panthers skill players for a pre-camp workout, Newton tweets.
At the draft, the Browns were not prepared to pay much more than $3MM of Mayfield’s salary. They ended up moving to $10.5MM. The Panthers did not want to cough up more than $5MM for Mayfield, SI.com’s Albert Breer tweets, leading to the pay-cut request. But the Panthers managed to add a former No. 1 pick, resisting the temptation to reach for one of this year’s QB prospects with the No. 6 choice — which became Ekwonu.
While Mayfield’s pay cut and the Panthers agreeing to cover part of the cost saves the Browns upwards of $8MM in cap space, this still could mark a massive descent for Cleveland’s quarterback position — for 2022 at least. The Browns have gone from a 2022 reality of deploying a healthier Mayfield to trotting out Deshaun Watson — after a short suspension — to facing the prospect of Jacoby Brissett being needed for a full season of QB1 work. The Browns did not foresee a season-long Watson suspension — which has become the NFL’s preferred ban — when they traded for him, and neither they nor Mayfield appeared to make inroads toward repairing the relationship.
As previously noted, a Jimmy Garoppolo trade was not in play for the Panthers. They had expressed reservations about the 49ers QB’s injuries and, based on the extensive haggling over Mayfield’s contract, were not taking on Garoppolo’s $24.2MM salary. Carolina viewed Mayfield as a higher-floor option than Garoppolo, per Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com (on Twitter). Wednesday’s transaction cost Garoppolo, who has dealt with more injuries than Mayfield over the past four seasons, a prime landing spot. The 49ers may now need to wait on a training camp injury to unload Garoppolo in a trade. Certain NFL evaluators have expected San Francisco to simply release Garoppolo, whose base salary becomes guaranteed in Week 1.
Seattle would make sense as a Garoppolo destination, but chatter out of the Pacific Northwest continues to center around the ongoing Drew Lock–Geno Smith competition. The Seahawks had “lukewarm interest” in acquiring Mayfield, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes. Although the Browns going from Mayfield to Brissett represents a downgrade, the Seahawks moving from Russell Wilson to either Lock or Smith would surpass that. The Broncos giving up their 2023 first- and second-round picks gives the Seahawks options next year — what is expected to be a better quarterback draft — but the team appears on the doorstep of giving Wilson’s old job to a highly scrutinized passer.