Sam Darnold

Latest On Panthers’ QB Situation

The Panthers have one of the league’s only quarterback competitions this summer and plan to draw it out a bit longer. Carolina doesn’t plan on making what head coach Matt Rhule calls a “major decision” on any position battles until after the team’s second preseason game on August 19, according to David Newton of ESPN. This, of course, includes the starting quarterback battle between incumbent Sam Darnold and trade acquisition Baker Mayfield

Darnold’s debut season in Carolina was the worst of his career according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). PFF has consistently graded Darnold among the worst NFL quarterbacks, ranking him 29th, 31st, and 35th in his first three seasons in New York. He continued his downward trajectory ranking as the 36th out of 37 ranked quarterbacks last year, finishing only over Ben Roethlisberger.

Mayfield, on the other hand, graded out very poorly in 2021 (30th out of 37), but has seen success in his healthier seasons in Cleveland, even taking them to the playoffs and earning their first postseason win since the 1994 NFL season in 2020. His career has been a rollercoaster celebrating the ups of his 2018 and 2020 seasons while stomaching the downs of his 2019 and 2021 seasons. Still, that’s two more impressive seasons than his competitor has seen in the NFL and should give him an initial edge.

Mayfield is the expected leader in the race right now based on that past success. The two have split reps on first and second team down the middle this summer, giving both a chance to work with the ones. At some point, though, the Panthers staff is going to want to give somebody more first team reps in preparation to be the Panthers’ starting quarterback for the regular season. Rhule seems to imply that a decision could ultimately be pushed even closer to the start of the season.

“I’m not putting a timetable on the quarterback position until after we get back from Patriots week,” Rhule explained after today’s scrimmage. “The Patriots week is a true litmus test for us. That will really show us where guys are.”

In addition to the QB1 battle, there are a couple of other positions that have battles to be decided after the team’s time in Foxborough. Wide receiver Terrace Marshall is expected to take a big step in his second season and push Robby Anderson for the WR2 spot behind D.J. Moore. The return of cornerback Jaycee Horn presents a logjam atop the depth chart of the position. The Panthers will have to decide if they like Horn or last year’s trade acquisition C.J. Henderson on the outside. If they choose Horn, Henderson will have to compete with Keith Taylor in the slot. In they choose Henderson on the outside, Horn will likely man the slot.

It will be interesting to see how Carolina approaches the third preseason game. The last game of the preseason is traditionally a game full of backups and roster bubble guys as the starters tend to rest in order to prevent injury. If the Panthers are waiting until that game to make crucial depth chart decisions, they may be forced to give the finalized first string some reps together in their last game action before the regular season. Regardless, it sounds like Panthers fans will have to wait until late August to know exactly what the Panthers’ depth chart will look like.

Latest On Panthers, Baker Mayfield

Now that Baker Mayfield is officially a Carolina Panther, his second NFL team has exclusive negotiating rights with him until the 2023 legal tampering period begins. That window, which closes in mid-March, could be critical not long down the road. For now, the Panthers are not looking at this acquisition through a post-2022 lens.

The Panthers have not discussed an extension with Mayfield, GM Scott Fitterer said Tuesday. Considering Mayfield is being pitted against Sam Darnold in a competition and has barely two weeks to learn OC Ben McAdoo‘s system ahead of training camp, extension talk is premature. The Panthers also helped sell the idea of a $3.5MM pay cut to Mayfield by pointing out how he can up his free agency stock after a year in Charlotte.

We’ll let it play out throughout the season and we’ll make decisions later in the season whether it’s November or December, once there’s a track record behind [Mayfield] in this offense and this organization,” Fitterer said, via David Newton of ESPN.com. “… I just want to take it short term for now.”

Mayfield was connected to an extension worth more than $30MM per year in 2021, but he and the Browns tabled those talks. A disastrous 2021 campaign led to Mayfield’s value plummeting and the Browns moving to replace him. The former No. 1 overall pick will make more than $15MM this season, but the Panthers are responsible for only $4.86MM. That said, incentives could bump that number up by a few million.

Mayfield, 27, is expected to be the Panthers’ next starting quarterback. His beating out Darnold would put the latter in limbo. The Panthers cut Cam Newton and traded Teddy Bridgewater, eating some of the latter’s contract to move him. Carolina has seen considerable turnover at the game’s most important position.

Darnold, 25, is due $18.9MM fully guaranteed — a figure north of Mayfield’s, now that the former Heisman winner has taken a pay cut — and that number would be a non-starter for teams eyeing Darnold in a trade. The Panthers are not planning to move Darnold, Fitterer said (via The Athletic’s Joe Person, on Twitter). No trade calls have come. The Panthers now have Mayfield, Darnold, P.J. Walker and Matt Corral under contract.

Among Browns coaches and front office staffers, Mayfield support had waned, according to the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin. The fallout from the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and the “adult in the room” comment that surfaced just before the Browns’ controversial Mayfield-to-Deshaun Watson switch indicated the four-year starter was wearing out his welcome in Cleveland. When asked about the “adult in the room” comment, Fitterer said Tuesday “a lot of people” among the Panthers went to bat for Mayfield, via ESPN.com’s Jake Trotter (on Twitter).

The Panthers and Browns haggled over Mayfield’s salary split for several weeks, despite Fitterer and Matt Rhule wanting the QB to be a Panther by the team’s minicamp. During the draft, the Browns were believed to be willing to pay just more than $3MM of Mayfield’s salary. They ended at $10.5MM. Those April negotiations also appear to have featured a better draft pick coming Cleveland’s way, per Fitterer, whose team backed out of those mid-draft talks and traded up for Corral. The sides ended up agreeing on compensation that will either be a 2024 fourth- or fifth-round pick.

The draft pick compensation came first in order for us to talk to Baker and kind of take that next step,” Fitterer said Tuesday (h/t Yardbarker). “We had to work with Cleveland to figure out what the right number was. Obviously, we talked to Cleveland during the draft — those things have gotten out — the compensation was higher at that point.

Now that it changed with Matt Corral being added to the group, us going through the spring and Sam playing really well throughout the spring, we just didn’t have that urgency to necessarily go out there and add someone right away. So we worked through that compensation, we reached that [fifth-round pick] going into a [fourth-rounder] in two years, and we thought that was fair.”

Panthers QBs Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold In “Open” Competition

As many expected, the Panthers finalized a trade sending Baker Mayfield to Carolina last week. The former No. 1 pick is expected to represent an upgrade over last year’s top quarterback, but he could be named the starter only after the remainder of the offseason. 

In a press conference, general manager Scott Fitterer announced that Mayfield and Sam Darnold will take part in an “open competition,” as detailed by Joe Person and Larry Holder of The Athletic. Fitterer further described the circumstances now surrounding the team’s QB room as being “a very healthy situation.”

The Panthers were consistently linked to Mayfield this offseason, in large part due to Darnold’s struggles in his first year in Charlotte. The 25-year-old put together a 4-7 record, completing less than 60% of his passes and throwing more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (nine). Mayfield struggled last season as well during an injured-plagued campaign, but if healthy, he would profile as having more upside given some of his past performances in Cleveland.

Nevertheless, Person tweets that Fitterer expects the snaps during training camp to be split in a “fairly even” manner. Part of the reason for that could of course be Mayfield’s late arrival; the Panthers wanted to get the trade done before minicamp. To that point, Person adds that the team set an internal deadline of July 5 to finalize the swap (Twitter link). Mayfield will be playing catch-up relative to Darnold especially in the early stages of camp, but he has already begun preparing himself for the competition to win out the starting job.

“I want to be a starter, I want to be a franchise-level quarterback for years, and hopefully, it’s here in Charlotte,” he said, via the team’s website“And I want a level playing field, and I want to elevate the guys around me and be the best version of myself… I know it’s not going to be easy by any means, I’ve got to go earn it, but I’m looking forward to the competition and the challenge.”

When camp opens up later this month, this positional battle could be one of the Panthers’ top storylines to watch.

Baker Mayfield Fallout: Panthers, Browns, Garoppolo, Darnold, Draft, Salary, Seahawks

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 LockGeno 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.

Panthers QB Transactions Since 2020

It’s been two years since the Panthers moved on from Cam Newton, and the organization’s QB room has seen plenty of change in that short amount of time. Besides the financial commitments to free agent additions like Teddy Bridgewater and Newton (for a second stint), the Panthers have also invested plenty of draft capital into the position. Over the past 15 months, the organization has effectively used a second-round pick, third-round pick, fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick, and sixth-round pick to construct their current depth chart of Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Matt Corral.

Of course, the Panthers have rostered plenty of additional signal-callers since settling on their current trio. Over the past two years, the Panthers have started four different QBs, and 13 different quarterbacks have made their way through the organization (either via the active roster or practice squad). These 13 different QBs have accounted for 18 different transactions over the past 28 months.

We went back to the 2020 offseason and listed all of the Panthers QB transactions below:

March 10, 2020

Allen inked a one-year pact with the Panthers to avoid ERFA.

March 17, 2020

March 23, 2020

March 24, 2020

April 5, 2021

  • Acquired Sam Darnold from Jets for 2022 second-round pick, 2022 fourth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick

April 28, 2021

April 30, 2021

August 31, 2021

Grier was a 2019 third-round pick by the Panthers.

September 2, 2021

November 2, 2021

November 9, 2021

Barkley was signed off the Titans practice squad.

November 11, 2021

December 28, 2021

December 31, 2021

April 29, 2022

May 1, 2022

July 6, 2022

 

Panthers Don’t Intend To Move QB Sam Darnold

The Panthers acquired Baker Mayfield earlier today, but that doesn’t mean the organization will be bailing on their other high-priced quarterback. ESPN’s David Newton tweets that the Panthers have no intention of moving Sam Darnold.

[RELATED: Panthers To Acquire QB Baker Mayfield From Browns]

From a financial standpoint, this news isn’t a huge surprise. After the Panthers acquired Darnold from the Jets last offseason, they committed to the QB’s fifth-year option, locking the player in to a fully guaranteed $18.85MM salary for the 2022 campaign. Considering the difficulties the Browns had finding a taker for Mayfield and his hefty fifth-year option, there’s little chance the Panthers would find a suitor who was willing to eat much (if any) of Darnold’s deal. In other words, it makes more sense for the Panthers to temporarily tolerate the cap hit vs. pawning him off (or paying to get off the contract).

Second, while teams would surely have interest in Darnold on their own terms, his salary and his ugly 2021 campaign likely means teams aren’t lining up for his services The QB seemed to take a step with the Jets in 2019 before taking a step back in 2020, and Darnold seemed to plateau on that underwhelming production in 2021. He finished the campaign having completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards, nine touchdowns, and 13 interceptions while guiding the Panthers to a 4-7 record in 11 starts.

Finally, the Panthers won’t trade Darnold because they sincerely intend on having a quarterback competition. We heard earlier today that the 2018 draftees would likely go head-to-head for the starting gig, allowing the team to also use 2022 as a developmental year for third-round rookie Matt Corral. Indeed, Newton passes along that the Panthers “haven’t counted Darnold out,” and the organization won’t automatically hand the keys to their offense to Mayfield. In fact, the organization is optimistic that the Mayfield acquisition could even light a fire under Darnold.

Ultimately, while the Panthers may be saying they have no intention of moving Darnold, it’s probably more accurate to say that they don’t have the ability to move Darnold considering the lack of suitors. So, for at least the time being, the organization is saying the right things and pointing toward a QB compeition.

Largest 2022 Cap Hits: Offense

After the COVID-19 pandemic led to the second reduction in NFL salary cap history last year, the 2022 cap made a record jump. This year’s salary ceiling ($208.2MM) checks in $25.7MM north of the 2021 figure.

While quarterbacks’ salaries will continue to lead the way, a handful of blockers and skill-position players carry sizable cap numbers for 2022. A few of the quarterbacks that lead the way this year may not be tied to those numbers once the regular season begins. The 49ers, Browns and Ravens have made efforts to alter these figures via trades or extensions.

Here are the top 2022 salary cap hits on the offensive side of the ball:

  1. Ryan Tannehill, QB (Titans): $38.6MM
  2. Patrick Mahomes, QB (Chiefs): $35.79MM
  3. Kirk Cousins, QB (Vikings): $31.42MM
  4. Jared Goff, QB (Lions): $31.15MM
  5. Aaron Rodgers, QB (Packers): $28.53MM
  6. Carson Wentz, QB (Commanders): $28.29MM
  7. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB (49ers): $26.95MM
  8. Russell Wilson, QB (Broncos): $24MM
  9. Lamar Jackson, QB (Ravens): $23.02MM
  10. Kenny Golladay, WR (Giants): $21.2MM
  11. Garett Bolles, T (Broncos): $21MM
  12. Dak Prescott, QB (Cowboys): $19.73MM
  13. Derek Carr, QB (Raiders): $19.38MM
  14. D.J. Humphries, T (Cardinals): $19.33MM
  15. Keenan Allen, WR (Chargers): $19.2MM
  16. Taylor Decker, T (Lions): $18.9MM
  17. Sam Darnold, QB (Panthers): 18.89MM
  18. Baker Mayfield, QB (Browns): $18.89MM
  19. Matt Ryan, QB (Colts): $18.7MM
  20. Ronnie Stanley, T (Ravens): $18.55MM
  21. Donovan Smith, T (Buccaneers): $18.4MM
  22. Ezekiel Elliott, RB (Cowboys): $18.22MM
  23. DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Cardinals): $17.95MM
  24. Cooper Kupp, WR (Rams): $17.8MM
  25. Laremy Tunsil, T (Texans): $17.71MM
  • The Chiefs’ cap sheet looks a bit different this year, with Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu off the roster. But Mahomes’ cap number rockets from $7.4MM in 2021 to the league’s second-largest figure in 2022. This marks the first time Mahomes’ 10-year contract is set to count more than $10MM toward Kansas City’s cap, with the AFC West champs not yet restructuring the deal this year.
  • Tied to a few lucrative extensions since relocating to Minnesota, Cousins’ third Vikings deal dropped his cap number from $45MM. The fifth-year Vikings QB’s cap number is set to climb past $36MM in 2023.
  • Prior to negotiating his landmark extension in March, Rodgers was set to count more than $46MM on the Packers’ payroll.
  • The 49ers are aiming to move Garoppolo’s nonguaranteed money off their payroll. That figure becomes guaranteed in Week 1, providing a key date for the franchise. San Francisco is prepared to let Garoppolo negotiate contract adjustments with other teams to facilitate a trade.
  • Wilson counts $26MM on the Seahawks’ 2022 payroll, due to the dead money the NFC West franchise incurred by trading its 10-year starter in March.
  • Jackson, Darnold and Mayfield are attached to fifth-year option salaries. Jackson’s is higher due to the former MVP having made two Pro Bowls compared to his 2018 first-round peers’ zero. The 2020 CBA separated fifth-year option values by playing time and accomplishments. The Browns and Panthers have engaged in off-and-on negotiations on divvying up Mayfield’s salary for months, while a Jackson extension remains on the radar.
  • Golladay’s cap number jumped from $4.47MM last year to the highest non-quarterback figure among offensive players. The Giants wideout’s four-year deal calls for $21MM-plus cap hits from 2023-24.
  • Prior to being traded to the Colts, who adjusted their new starter’s contract, Ryan was set to carry an NFL-record $48MM cap hit this year. The Falcons are carrying a league-record $40.5MM dead-money charge after dealing their 14-year starter.
  • The Texans restructured Tunsil’s deal in March, dropping his 2022 cap hit from $26.6MM to its present figure. Because of the adjustment, Tunsil’s 2023 cap number resides at $35.2MM

Contract information courtesy of Over The Cap 

Poll: How Should Panthers Proceed At QB?

Without a long-term quarterback plan since injuries began to keep Cam Newton off the field, the Panthers have attempted to land big fish at the position for a bit. But they have been unable to do so, leaving the team with a major question at the game’s premier position in a rather important year for Matt Rhule.

Carolina made serious efforts to trade for Matthew Stafford, offering a first-round pick and change, and Deshaun Watson, whom the team was linked to for over a year. Neither panned out, with the Rams swooping in late for a player who has since become a Super Bowl-winning QB. Although the Falcons were believed to be the second-place finishers for Watson, the Panthers also balked at the $230MM guarantee the Browns authorized. An inquiry into Russell Wilson‘s status went nowhere, with the longtime Seahawks QB prioritizing a Denver move.

The Panthers still have Sam Darnold, whom they acquired for three draft choices — including a second-round pick — last year. Darnold, 25, struggled through an injury-interrupted 2021 season, putting his status as Carolina’s 2022 QB in doubt. But the Panthers, upon trading for the former Jets top-three pick, exercised the scuffling passer’s fifth-year option. Darnold is guaranteed $18.9MM this year, and Rhule has praised his work this offseason.

The primary reason for the frequent Carolina-centric headlines this offseason, Baker Mayfield, 27, remains on the team’s radar. An early report this offseason indicated neither the Panthers nor Mayfield were on-board with a trade that moved the former No. 1 overall pick to Charlotte, but the NFC South team has come around. The Panthers have been by far the team most closely connected to Mayfield, having engaged with the Browns in trade talks during the draft and resuming them recently.

How Mayfield’s fully guaranteed $18.9MM salary would be divvied up would seem a somewhat minor hiccup, at least compared to the prospect of making a QB upgrade, but that component has stalled the talks for several weeks. The Browns were believed to offering to pay barely $3MM of Mayfield’s salary during the mid-draft talks, but they have since upped that figure to around $10MM. The Panthers have wanted the Browns to pay nearly $14MM of the figure. Cleveland holds the NFL’s most cap space, with Carolina at No. 2. It would seemingly benefit the Panthers to make this deal soon to give Mayfield as much time as possible to learn Ben McAdoo‘s playbook, and the Seahawks are lurking in the event Mayfield is cut.

Jimmy Garoppolo looms as an option as well, but Carolina is not believed to be interested in trading for him. The four-plus-year 49ers starter is tied to a $26.9MM base salary — one that becomes fully guaranteed in Week 1. The Panthers would be interested if the 49ers cut him, though the 30-year-old passer is coming off a three-injury season — one culminating with a throwing-shoulder surgery that paused his trade market.

Teams can certainly hold out to see if the 49ers — who have Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa extensions on their docket but hold little in cap space — blink on Garoppolo’s salary ahead of his guarantee vesting. But the Panthers waiting that long runs the risk of Garoppolo not joining the team until just before the regular season. That would not put him in good position to succeed. Although frequently scrutinized, Garoppolo did rank 12th in QBR in 2019. That Super Bowl-qualifying campaign also marked his only healthy season in the past four.

Ranking 29th in 2021 QBR, Darnold trailed a hobbled Mayfield (27th) last season. Mayfield’s best QBR season (2020, when he ranked 10th) outpaces Darnold’s by a notable margin. A 25th-place finish in 2019 is Darnold’s best mark, and although he has not been given a favorable draw in four seasons, the USC product teeters on the bust cliff. That said, Mayfield’s 2020 is the outlier in his past three seasons, a span that included a 2019 regression and the injury-plagued 2021 that is leading him out of Cleveland.

The Panthers have outfitted Darnold with a better offensive line this year, and a healthy Christian McCaffrey would make a difference. But are Darnold (or third-rounder Matt Corral, who profiles as a longer-term project) and healthy versions of Mayfield and Garoppolo close enough in ability to venture into training camp without Carolina making a move? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.

Browns Not Expected To Target Sam Darnold In Baker Mayfield Trade

With the Browns and Panthers haggling over how Baker Mayfield‘s 2022 salary will be paid, Cleveland taking back one of Carolina’s quarterbacks in a deal would not seem in step with these negotiations. But Deshaun Watson‘s status may point to the Browns looking around at emergency QB options, considering Mayfield is out of the picture for such a role.

Sam Darnold is not expected to be on such a list, and as of now, the Browns are not preparing to chase a QB upgrade as part of a Watson contingency plan. A Mayfield-for-Darnold swap is not believed to be on the Browns’ radar, according to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, who adds the AFC North team is confident in offseason addition Jacoby Brissett.

Carolina and Cleveland have picked up talks on Mayfield recently, with the NFC South squad displaying some urgency here. If Mayfield finally does end up being traded, the acquiring team would be wise to do it soon for the purposes of the relocating quarterback immersing himself in his new team’s playbook ahead of training camp.

Matt Rhule said a trade weeks in advance of camp is not essential to a QB learning Ben McAdoo‘s playbook, but the more time Mayfield would have with Carolina’s system, the better off he would be. Illustrating money’s impact in these talks, the Panthers would have hoped to acquire Mayfield before or during minicamp for acclimation purposes, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

Like Mayfield, Darnold is tied to a fifth-year option salary of $18.9MM. As 2018 draftees, Mayfield and Darnold are part of the first class to have their fifth-year options fully guaranteed. While trade-value purposes should be considered here, Rhule is believed to be warming to another Darnold season. Given the efforts the Panthers have made to acquire a better QB over the past two years, that would be quite the development. Mayfield would seemingly be a better option, his inconsistency notwithstanding, but his former draft classmate has been prepping in McAdoo’s system for five months.

The Browns were linked to Darnold ahead of the 2018 draft; Mayfield emerged late in the process. The two passers’ work to date suggests then-GM John Dorsey made the right decision, but Darnold — who is two years younger, at 25 — has been stationed behind below-average offensive lines throughout his career. Mayfield enjoyed a top-tier line during the second half of his Cleveland run. Darnold has not shown what Mayfield has during the latter’s highpoints, but with a new-look Panther O-line and a quality set of skill-position players, this might be the USC product’s best chance of putting together a decent season.

Signed to a one-year, $4.65MM deal this offseason, Brissett replaced Case Keenum as the Browns’ backup. The frequent fill-in starter stands to be a pivotal figure in the Browns’ season. With a lengthy Watson suspension expected, the former Patriots, Colts and Dolphins QB will be on track to make several starts for a Browns team that has seen its preferred starter encounter additional turmoil since the divisive blockbuster trade occurred.

Browns, Panthers Remain In Discussions On Baker Mayfield

As the Browns and Panthers’ salary viewpoints diverged considerably during the draft, the teams’ Baker Mayfield talks broke down. Carolina traded into the third round for Matt Corral. Matt Rhule is warming up to the idea a Corral-Sam Darnold competition will be enough for this year’s Panthers edition, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

But Mayfield is still generating support from some inside the NFC South squad’s building, Person adds. This has reached the point where the Panthers have resumed discussions with the Browns on a trade for the fifth-year quarterback, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports tweets.

Both teams begin minicamp Tuesday. Rhule said last week the Panthers would evaluate their quarterback position after minicamp but indicated a free agent at any position would not need to be acquired too long before training camp to pick up new OC Ben McAdoo‘s system. Days later, some semblance of urgency exists on the Panthers’ side on the Mayfield front, Jones adds (via Twitter). This stance would make sense, with Mayfield having a better chance to bounce back in Carolina with additional time to learn McAdoo’s offense ahead of training camp.

The Panthers having checked in on Russell Wilson and aggressively pursued Deshaun Watson — a year after making a strong offer for Matthew Stafford — makes the prospect of running it back with Darnold (31st in 2021 QBR) tough to buy. But Rhule has bolted on the team’s previous starter (Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater) in each of his first two offseasons. And the team did make upgrades along its offensive line, which would stand to aid Darnold in his second Panthers slate. But, through four seasons, Mayfield has been a far more viable starter than Darnold. For a coach on one of the NFL’s hottest seats, adding a quarterback at a much cheaper cost than it took to land Bridgewater or Darnold would seemingly check out.

The Browns have waited for the Panthers’ Darnold-Corral competition to induce them to return to the Mayfield table, but money still divides the teams sitting first and second in cap space. During the draft, the Browns were barely prepared to pay $3MM of Mayfield’s $18.9MM fully guaranteed salary. The Panthers wanted them to pick up at least $13MM. Cleveland appears to have moved closer to the latter figure, and the more the AFC North team pays, the better the draft compensation would be. Still, Carolina should not be expected to give up much for Mayfield.

The Browns would be stuck with nearly the full salary if they release Mayfield, which has long been a non-starter. The Seahawks have been monitoring this situation for months, but lately, the only Seattle-Mayfield connections pertain to a potential release. The latest reports of Panthers-Browns talks could motivate the Seahawks — amid a Geno SmithDrew Lock QB competition — to reconsider their trade stance. For now, Carolina remains the frontrunner for Mayfield.