CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Baker Mayfield said he was “shocked” to learn he wasn’t included in the Cleveland Browns’ future plans earlier this offseason.
But the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft has had a few months now to digest the Browns’ decision to replace him with Deshaun Watson and is eager to enjoy a fresh start with his new team, the Carolina Panthers. .
“Shocked, I would say, is about the only way to describe it,” Mayfield said Tuesday. “But you roll with the punches and you have to go forward. It’s a test of adversity and how I’m going to handle it and how I can move forward and be the best teammate I can be.
Mayfield said he has no animosity toward the Browns, although he admits Carolina’s home opener against Cleveland on Sept. 11 will be a “special” game.
Often seen as feisty and outspoken, Mayfield was humble and introspective in his first interview since the Browns handed him to Carolina for a conditional fifth-round draft pick in 2024.
To help facilitate the deal, Mayfield agreed to take a $3.5 million pay cut. He will still earn a combined $15.5 million with the Browns and Panthers.
By taking the pay cut, Mayfield is essentially betting on himself with lingering free agency after this upcoming season.
But first, he has to earn the starting job.
Mayfield joins Sam Darnold in the quarterback room, giving the Panthers the top two QBs in the draft of 18 — but no clear starter heading to training camp.
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer called it an “open competition” and predicts that both will get equal reps in practice.
“The reason we have Baker here is to make the whole band better as a whole,” Fitterer said. “Our philosophy is that we want competition, not just in the quarter room but in every position.”
But past success suggests Mayfield has a better chance of winning the job. He is 29-30 as an NFL starter, while Darnold is 17-32. Mayfield threw 92 touchdowns and 56 interceptions compared to Darnold’s 54 touchdowns and 52 interceptions.
Mayfield has also shown he can lead a team to the playoffs, helping the Browns go 11-5 in 2020.
Mayfield avoided questioning whether he expected to be the team’s starter, saying only that he wanted to be the best quarterback he could be and help the Panthers win games regardless of his role. He said he loved and respected Darnold, who called him shortly after the Carolina trade news broke.
He doesn’t want a quarterback controversy to upset the team.
“If there’s drama in this room, it’s going to seep through the whole building and it won’t,” Mayfield said. “We’re not going to let that happen.”
Fitterer said the Panthers did extensive background checks on Mayfield before the trade.
He said he was comfortable, even excited, with Mayfield’s approach to the game.
“He’s a feisty, competitive guy,” Fitterer said. “He wants to win, he wants to be great. I think as an organization we take that attitude. We like guys who are like that. It’s a fresh start for him and whatever he’s got done in the past.”
It remains to be seen how long Mayfield — or Darnold — will be in Carolina.
Both QBs are in the final years of their rookie contracts and Fitterer said the team isn’t looking to sign a contract extension either until they see how they perform on the field.
“We’ll let that play out throughout the season and we’ll make decisions based on that later in the season, whether it’s November or December,” Fitterer said.
And, it’s possible the team could part ways with the two and hand over the offensive reins to rookie Matt Corral, the Mississippi team’s third-round pick.
As for the present, Mayfield said he hopes to apply the lessons he learned from his four years in Cleveland as he embarks on a new journey in Carolina.
“I learned to control what I can,” Mayfield said. “It’s been an offseason that has taught me a lot of patience, a lot about focusing on priorities and realizing who’s in your corner and how to prioritize your life and just become the best version of myself. That’s not the way I wrote it at all, but I’m very grateful to come back to it.
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