Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold realize they're battling for a starting position, but they're not about to allow their competition to become contentious.
“It’s not about trying to stab one another in the back,” Mayfield said Monday, per Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. “It’s about elevating, because the franchise and the team go as the QB room goes.”
The Panthers traded for Mayfield on July 6, which put him behind Darnold in terms of understanding the offensive terminology. Mayfield spent his offseason in a state of limbo while seeking a trade from the Cleveland Browns, meaning he had not been part of any offseason team work until the start of training camp.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule, who said he plans a patient approach in determining the starter, has been impressed with Mayfield's quick uptake in practice.
“He’s definitely improving, as he gets more and more of a feel for what he can do at the line of scrimmage. … What he’s done in 10 days (of training camp practice) is pretty impressive. He’s making really good jumps," Rhule said.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Monday that Mayfield is the favorite to win the starting job, which should come as no surprise.
Darnold is 17-32 as a starter over his four-year NFL career and showed no signs of improvement last season with a change of scenery in Carolina. He threw for 2,527 yards and nine touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 12 games for his second straight season with more picks than touchdowns.
Mayfield, who was widely reviled in Cleveland for his 2021 performance, still outperformed Darnold by every possible metric. The top pick of the 2018 NFL draft has also never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in a season and is just two years removed from a stellar 2020 campaign.
While Mayfield has clearly established himself as a below-average NFL starter, he is likely one of the 32 best quarterbacks in football. The same cannot be said for Darnold, who has seen his interception rate stick between 2.9 and 3.6 percent his entire career while his touchdown percentage plummeted from 4.1 as a rookie to 2.2 last season.
With Rhule entering the 2022 campaign firmly on the hot seat, it would be shocking if Mayfield wasn't under center in Week 1.