There is a new quarterback in Carolina. On Wednesday, the Panthers acquired former No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones confirms. Carolina will ship a conditional fifth-round pick to the Browns that can turn into a fourth depending on Mayfield’s playing time.
While this trade is simply between two teams, it will have a domino effect that will stretch well beyond Cleveland and Carolina. Below, we’ll cover all the winners and losers that have come out of the latest trade in the NFL.
Winner: Baker Mayfield
The ultimate winner in all this is Baker Mayfield. He’d previously requested a trade out of Cleveland as the team landed Deshaun Watson earlier this offseason and now he gets his wish. For a minute, it did seem like there was a possibility (however slim) where the Browns wouldn’t trade Mayfield and hope they mend the fence in the event that Watson is handed a massive suspension for his off-the-field issues. However, this deal now eliminates the possibility of an awkward/forced reconciliation.
Not only does Mayfield get out of Cleveland, but he also lands with a Panthers team that has some intriguing weapons including running back Christian McCaffrey and wideout D.J. Moore, to go along with a sturdy offensive line that features 2022 first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu at left tackle.
Financially, Mayfield did agree to trim $3.5 million off of his base salary to help facilitate that trade, but he can earn that money back in incentives, per the NFL Network. So, Mayfield finds himself out of Cleveland and into a situation where he’ll be the Week 1 starter without having to take on much financial risk. It’s a win all the way around for the former No. 1 overall pick.
Loser: Cleveland Browns
There is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Browns’ situation under center. The NFL was pushing for Watson to face an indefinite suspension of at least one season. If disciplinary officer Sue. L. Robinson rules that way, Cleveland’s ceiling at the quarterback position will drastically fall. With Mayfield gone, Jacoby Brissett would be the clear-cut option to start if Watson is suspended. While it may have been an uphill battle to try and reconcile with Mayfield, he does have experience in Kevin Stefanski’s offense and would be the better option of the two for the Browns to be competitive in Watson’s absence.
Meanwhile, a fifth-round pick that could turn into a fourth is hardly an earth-shattering return. The Browns are also reportedly paying the chunk of Mayfield’s contract for 2022. Per the NFL Network, Cleveland is shelling out $10.5 million of Mayfield’s deal, while the Panthers will pay him $5 million.
Despite clearing some cap space and ridding itself of a player that requested a trade, Cleveland is currently very exposed if the hammer is dropped on Watson over the next few days/weeks.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers improved at quarterback and it didn’t cost much to do so. As we noted above, the Browns are paying the bulk of Mayfield’s contract and Carolina only needed to send a conditional fifth-rounder for the former No. 1 overall pick.
While Mayfield has had some ups and downs throughout his four-year career, he is arguably the best quarterback that the Panthers have brought in since Cam Newton’s first stint with the team came to an end following the 2019 season. Both Mayfield and Sam Darnold — the club’s 2021 starter — came into the league in 2018, but Mayfield has enjoyed more success. For their careers, Mayfield’s 87.8 passer rating is much better than Darnold’s 76.9 passer rating. With that talent increase, Mayfield’s presence should improve the overall ceiling for Carolina’s offense.
Again, getting better at the most important position in the sport and doing so at such a low cost makes this a no-brainer move for the Panthers.
The underrated piece to this deal is the repercussions it will have across the NFL and specifically the NFC West.
The Seattle Seahawks were one of the teams that were pegged as a potential landing spot for Mayfield after they traded Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos earlier this offseason. Currently, Drew Lock and Geno Smith are expected to duke it out for the starting job in camp, but Mayfield would be a much better option than either of those two heading into 2022.
As Seattle may have to go into the season with either Lock or Smith, another loser in all this is Jimmy Garoppolo. He and Mayfield were the two remaining quarterbacks left to be moved and Carolina seemed to be the most logical landing spot for Garoppolo, simply because the only other destination for the 49ers quarterback to start was in Seattle. Would San Francisco be willing to trade Garoppolo within the division only to compete against him twice a year? Even if the Niners were willing to have the conversation, the asking price for Garoppolo would likely be bumped up because it would be an inner-division trade.
So, Mayfield landing in Carolina is really the worst possible outcome for these two sides. Garoppolo loses what would have been the clearest avenue to start in 2022 and Seattle misses out on improving at quarterback at a relatively cheap cost.
Winner: Jacoby Brissett
With Mayfield heading to Carolina, Jacoby Brissett is in line to start for the Browns if/when Watson is handed a suspension. This gives Brissett another opportunity to showcase his skills for what could be up to a full season. The 29-year-old signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Browns this offseason and if he plays well in 2022 for however long he is the starter, it could lead to a more robust market next year and be paid as one of the best backups in the league.
Brissett has 37 starts under his belt throughout his six-year NFL career and has a career completion percentage of 60.2 and an 83 passer rating.
Loser: Sam Darnold
Unless the Panthers turn around and trade Darnold to the Seahawks and he wins that job, this move almost certainly ensures that Darnold will not be a starting quarterback in 2022. At the very least, it looks like he is one-and-done as the starter in Carolina after going 4-7 in his 11 starts for the Panthers in 2021.
After flaming out in New York, Darnold was traded to the Panthers last offseason and there was hope that the former first-round pick could rebuild his standing in the league with this change of scenery. However, after a campaign where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns and completed just 59.8% of his passes, it never came to fruition.
Now the question is whether or not Darnold will ever be looked at as a starting-caliber quarter again.