Biggest Winners and Losers of Baker Mayfield Trade
After months of waiting, the Cleveland Browns finally found a taker for Baker Mayfield.
A saga that began nearly four months ago with Mayfield’s trade request has finally been put to rest with the Carolina Panthers kicking over a conditional draft pick—one Jake Trotter of ESPN is reporting will be a fourth-rounder if Mayfield plays at least 70 percent of the offensive snaps and a fifth-rounder if not—in exchange for the disgruntled quarterback.
There were several winners and losers as part of this deal, some that may not be so obvious at first glance. With that in mind, let’s look at some parties that benefitted from the Mayfield trade and those that lost out in the deal:
Winner: Baker Mayfield
Mayfield is a clear winner in this trade. The quarterback got his wish of being dealt away from the Browns and gets a real chance to rejuvenate his career in Carolina.
A change of scenery should help Mayfield recover from his worst season as a pro. Expectations were high entering the 2021 campaign after the signal-caller led Cleveland to an 11-5 record and its first playoff win since 1994.
Mayfield struggled to replicate his successes from 2020, playing hurt for much of the campaign and only winning six of his 14 starts. He had career lows in passing yardage (3,010) and touchdowns (17) while he gave up 13 interceptions and took a career-high 43 sacks.
Mayfield still needs to beat out Sam Darnold to earn the QB1 job, but it’s a task he should be more than up for.
Loser: Sam Darnold
No player will be more negatively impacted by the Mayfield deal than Darnold.
The trade signaled a lack of faith from the Panthers in their incumbent quarterback, one the team gave up a trio of draft picks to acquire just over a year ago.
The New York Jets had seen enough from Darnold after he went just 13-25 during his three seasons as their starter, but the Panthers still elected to roll the dice given their massive void under center.
Darnold began his tenure in Carolina red-hot, winning each of his first three starts while completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 888 yards and three touchdowns. He only gave up one interception and added three scores on the ground in that span, seeming well on his way to proving he could be an elite NFL quarterback.
Unfortunately for Darnold, he hit a wall in Week 4, suffering the first of four consecutive losses. He would only win once more the rest of the campaign, one he finished with a meager 59.9 percent completion rate with 2,527 passing yards and nine TDs against 13 INTs and 35 sacks.
Darnold also showed durability concerns after suffering a significant shoulder injury, one that cost him five games. He’s yet to play a complete season as a professional and likely won’t get the chance to reverse that trend in 2022.
Two organizations have now given up on a QB who just turned 25 years old last month. This move could spell the end of Darnold’s once-promising NFL career.
Winner: Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo stands alone as the last remaining openly available veteran quarterback in wake of the Mayfield trade.
The San Francisco 49ers have been trying to find a team to take their incumbent starter since the end of the 2021 campaign. Several clubs—including the Panthers—have been linked to the eight-year veteran, but thus far none have floated a suitable offer San Francisco’s way.
Garoppolo’s surprise decision to undergo surgery on his throwing shoulder following the team's NFC Championship Game loss made suitors wary, but the 30-year-old is reportedly on track to participate in training camp. Displaying a full recovery will likely lead to heavy interest in his services.
The Seattle Seahawks are one possible landing spot for Garoppolo. The team is about to head into training camp with the unenviable tandem of Drew Lock and Geno Smith competing for a starting job left vacant by Russell Wilson's departure. It's a QB battle that the Seahawks could avoid entirely by bringing aboard Garoppolo as the shoo-in starter before a competing organization can snap up the veteran.
The Browns are now in play for Garoppolo as well. Cleveland went all-in to acquire Deshaun Watson early in the offseason but may be without the star quarterback for the entire 2022 season.
Watson's availability is up in the air pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing stemming from the NFL’s investigation into Watson's alleged sexual misconduct.
The league is reportedly pushing for Watson to be suspended indefinitely because of the potential for further cases to arise.
If Cleveland's new quarterback is forced to sit out for a lengthy duration, adding Garoppolo could help the organization contend until Watson is allowed to return to the field.
Regardless of how it plays out, the Mayfield trade means there is one less QB on the market for Garoppolo to compete with and should help him land in a QB1 role for 2022.
Loser: Cleveland Browns
Although the Mayfield era began with plenty of hype and promise, it ended without much being delivered on.
After suffering through an abysmal 2017 campaign in which they finished with an 0-16 record—tying the 2008 Detroit Lions for the most losses in a single season—the Browns earned the No. 1 overall pick in 2018.
The franchise pinned its hopes on Mayfield at the top of that draft, selecting a quarterback who was coming off an outstanding run at Oklahoma. The signal-caller racked up 4,627 passing yards and 43 touchdowns as a senior, winning the Heisman Trophy and establishing himself as a can’t-miss prospect.
At first, it appeared that Mayfield was the savior that Cleveland desperately needed. He replaced an injured Tyrod Taylor three weeks into his rookie season, helping the Browns come back from a 14-0 deficit against the New York Jets to notch their first victory since Week 16 of the 2016 campaign, snapping a record 19-game losing streak in the process.
Mayfield would go on to win six of his 13 starts that year, leading the Browns to their best record since 2007. After struggling a bit as a sophomore—Cleveland went just 6-10 that year—he bounced back in 2020 to guide the Browns to their first postseason berth since 2002.
A Wild Card Round victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers and a narrow loss to the eventual champion Kansas City Chiefs seemingly had Mayfield well positioned to be the franchise’s cornerstone for years to come. That would not come to pass, as Mayfield’s health and relationship with the Browns drastically deteriorated last year.
When Watson trade rumors and a report that the Browns wanted “an adult” under center surfaced, Mayfield demanded the trade he was eventually granted Wednesday.
Mayfield could have been the homegrown franchise quarterback that the Browns have long coveted to lead them to a championship. Instead, they ended up with a mere conditional fifth-round pick and a single playoff victory to show for their hefty investment.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have been steadily building up their roster over the last few years. The organization employs an armada of exciting young players and solid veterans who could serve as the foundation for a contender, but it had failed to find the right quarterback to lead it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
That could change with the Mayfield acquisition.
Mayfield has proved capable of lifting an up-and-coming squad to new heights. He accomplished this both as a rookie, when he helped orchestrate Cleveland’s return to respectability following a historic string of losses, and in the 2020 season, when he took the Browns to the divisional round.
While the quarterback took a major step back in 2021, it was largely due to his decision to play through significant injuries. Mayfield tore the labrum in his non-throwing left shoulder in Week 2 and never looked the same after. The signal-caller completed an NFL-best 81.7 percent of his passes in his first two starts before that number plummeted to an unsightly 57.7 percent—the second-worst mark in the NFL—over his remaining contests.
With Mayfield now healthy and likely competing with a chip on his shoulder, the Panthers have acquired a competent signal-caller who still has the upside to become a franchise quarterback. Mayfield only turned 27 in April and is preparing for his fifth NFL season, one that could be his best yet.
Carolina assumes little financial risk in this deal as well. According to NFL.com’s Nick Shook, the Browns will pay $10.5 million of Mayfield’s 2022 salary. The quarterback agreed to convert around $3.5 million of the remaining $8.858 million on his contract into incentives, so the Panthers are paying him only $5 million in base salary for the upcoming campaign.
The fact that Carolina was able to get a player of Mayfield's pedigree for the lowly price of a conditional Day 3 pick while avoiding a large financial burden is icing on the cake.
Winner: Christian McCaffrey
Few players on the Panthers are likely as thrilled to hear about the Mayfield trade than Christian McCaffrey. The running back has established himself as one of the most unique weapons in the league and has thrived despite less-than-stellar quarterback play during his five-year tenure in Carolina.
While McCaffrey has struggled to stay on the field over the last two seasons—he's played in only 10 of 33 games—he’s been a true game-changer when healthy. He showed as much during a two-year stretch in 2018-2019, a period in which he amassed 2,485 yards and 22 touchdowns on 506 rushing attempts and added 223 receptions for 1,872 yards and 10 scores while starting all 32 contests.
Perhaps most impressively, McCaffrey accomplished all of that while playing in offenses helmed by a fading Cam Newton and career backup Kyle Allen. Newton earned a replaceable 70.9 PFF grade as Carolina’s full-time starter in 2018, and Allen earned a pitiful 49.7 mark for his work as a 12-game starter the following season.
With Mayfield now in Carolina, McCaffrey will get a chance to play with his best quarterback yet. Mayfield had a commendable 81.6 PFF grade in 2020 and could perform similarly this season.
McCaffrey is in line for a return to form and could post some of the best numbers of his career if he both he and his quarterback can stay healthy.
Winner: Jacoby Brissett
Jacoby Brissett could make a surprise ascension from being an unheralded depth option to a starting quarterback just months after signing with the Browns.
Cleveland quietly brought in Brissett on a one-year, $4.65 million contract at the end of March. The veteran was expected to work behind the recently acquired Watson and potentially even Mayfield, who was still lingering on the roster despite his desire to be dealt.
With Mayfield now in Carolina and the NFL having pushed for a significant suspension for Watson—the results of which are still pending after a three-day disciplinary hearing wrapped up last week—Brissett could find himself as the new QB1 in Cleveland.
There won't be much competition for the job, barring a trade to bring in someone like Jimmy Garoppolo. The Browns' only other quarterback is Joshua Dobbs, a fourth-round pick in 2017 who has thrown only 17 career regular-season passes.
Brissett, whom the New England Patriots selected in the third round of the 2016 draft, has seen meaningful action in his last two NFL stops. The 29-year-old went 11-19 across his 30 starts with the Indianapolis Colts between 2017 and 2020. Last season, Brissett served as Tua Tagovailoa’s backup with the Miami Dolphins, but he went 2-3 in his five starts before the injured starter returned to action.
While Brissett isn’t likely to emerge as a superstar at this point in his career, he’s a capable game manager who limits his mistakes and can put his squad in position to win. The NC State product has completed 60.2 percent of his passing attempts for 7,742 yards and 36 touchdowns against just 17 interceptions over the course of his career.
The Mayfield trade and a possible Watson suspension give Brissett a realistic path to be Cleveland's starter for part or all of the 2020 season. The veteran could earn a sizable contract next spring if he succeeds in that unexpected role, making him one of the big winners of this trade.