There is an art to destroying the career of a highly drafted quarterback who has talent and desire.
The Carolina Panthers are likely to finish off two such passers in the same year.
On face value, the decision by Carolina to trade for Baker Mayfield is a no-brainer. Giving up only a fifth-round pick and getting Cleveland to pick up $10.5 million of Mayfield's salary for this year is a classic move for a team trying to make something out of nothing. Likewise, having Mayfield there to compete with fellow former first rounder Sam Darnold would seem to be a healthy situation.
The old refrain about the best guy playing and both of them being hungry to prove that they can play would seem to apply.
But forgive me if I'm not reminded of different adage that Jimmy Johnson liked to use.
Why Mayfield & Darnold Together Will Spell Disaster
"Sometimes when you have two quarterbacks, you actually have no quarterbacks," Johnson would say with a chuckle. In particular, when you have two guys whose confidence is at the precipice of completely shot, you have to wonder how this is really going to work.
And I haven't even begun to talk about the team they are now playing for.
Darnold and Mayfield come into this season with each having a boatload of doubt. Darnold is still the same guy who was once caught on camera talking about seeing "ghosts," a remark you hear from players when they are unsure of what they are seeing going on around them.
And while Mayfield is still a guy who portrays Favre-ian swagger with his willingness to throw into traffic, he was reduced to a whiner last season in Cleveland. His petulance played out with the coaching staff and with talented receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who Mayfield failed to use effectively and which added to Mayfield's demise.
These are two guys who need some serious nursing to revive their careers, not overt competition. They need to be on teams that have stability and planning. This is like when Michael Vick and later Alex Smith went to work for Andy Reid or when Carson Palmer went to Bruce Arians in Arizona.
In the simplest terms, a player who is trying to stabilize his career is best suited going to a stable environment. That's not the Panthers. Right now, the Panthers are a teetering mess led by a firebrand owner in Dave Tepper, who thinks that his vast business success will equate in football. Tepper made billions betting on the economy, often using cold, calculated moves that ignore any sense of relationship building.
The best example of how Tepper views the world is playing out as part of his purchase of the Panthers. Two years ago, Tepper reached an agreement with the city of Rock Hill, S.C., to build a new training facility for the team. The city started building the facility and was well along the way toward finishing it when Tepper backed out of the deal earlier this year in what amounted to a leverage play.
It was the kind of move that screamed to people in the area that Tepper can't be trusted to act in good faith. Sure, it was about dollars and cents, but there is also something to be said for being a good citizen and partner, especially when you're in the business of trying to get people to be fans of your team.
While Tepper used to be a part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he seems to have learned nothing from the Rooney Family about being a friend to his community. Likewise, Tepper also didn't seem to learn anything from the Rooneys about the steady hand needed to run a team.
Some of you may say that the Rock Hill deal is nothing more than an off-field decision that has no impact on football. Unfortunately, Tepper's football moves with the Panthers have been worse and even more temperamental.
Tepper bought the team in 2018 and had a respected leader in coach Ron Rivera, who had 30 years of NFL playing and coaching experience under his belt at the time. The Panthers also had a declining, banged up quarterback in Cam Newton. The result was a 7-9 performance in 2018 and a 5-7 start in 2019. Instead of riding out the downturn with Rivera and trying to find a new quarterback, Tepper fired Rivera.
Tepper then hired Matt Rhule, a guy with all of one year experience in the NFL as an assistant offensive line coach and not even any experience running what you might call a big-time program. Rhule was a head coach at Temple and Baylor. Unlike the aforementioned Jimmy Johnson, he wasn't leading teams like the University of Miami to national championships and recruiting the cream of the crop at the college level.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that since firing Rivera, Tepper and the Panthers are 10-27.
As the 2021 season played out, Rhule was starting to sound completely unsure of himself. He fired highly regarded offensive coordinator Joe Brady halfway through last season. Later, Rhule was rumored to be eyeing a return to the college ranks.
This year, Rhule hired former New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo to replace Brady. McAdoo's tenure with the Giants was marred by indecision that bordered on buffoonery. There was the time that McAdoo benched Eli Manning for Geno Smith and then went back to Manning the next week.
In other words, if you are looking for leadership with a steady hand to guide Darnold and/or Mayfield back to the promise they once showed when they were drafted, the Panthers simply don't have it.
On top of all that, Mayfield is entering the situation without having had any chance to work with the Panthers this offseason. In a game that requires synchronicity and timing, Mayfield has been given no chance to develop any with his teammates.
If this works out positively for the Panthers, Darnold or Mayfield, it will be a minor miracle. More likely, this is going to be a disaster with only Tepper -- the guy with the least actual football experience -- being around next year to figure out how to fix it.