Well, it's official. Quarterback Baker Mayfield's days in Cleveland have come to an end months after the Browns, who drafted Mayfield first overall in the 2018 NFL, traded multiple first-round picks to acquire controversial Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal. As reported by NFL Networks's Ian Rapoport, Mayfield will now suit up for the Carolina Panthers as the North Carolina-based franchise sends a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick and will pay $10.5 million of his salary in exchange for their new signal caller.
Wow. What a whirlwind of an offseason for not only Baker Mayfield, but multiple big players involved in the entire scenario. And since we've reached the conclusion of this saga, let's take a moment to determine the winners and losers of Baker Mayfield's departure from Cleveland and arrival in Charlotte.
Winner - Baker Mayfield
Congratulations, Baker Mayfield! You are officially back on a team that actually wants your services. Seriously, what did Baker Mayfield do last season that would make Cleveland go out and trade for Deshaun Watson? What did he ever do to you, Cleveland? Break your playoff drought? Actually, come through as a No. 1 overall pick? I could go on and on, but I won't.
While Carolina offers some difficult challenges for a quarterback, what they do present is another chance for Mayfield to be the hero he was in Cleveland. Add in a generational talent in the backfield like running back Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers are very much on the upswing with Mayfield under center.
And in all seriousness, there also has to be a chip on Mayfield's shoulder after leaving Cleveland, so having a field general with something to prove may pull the Panthers out of their slump earlier than expected. The Baker Mayfield Revenge Tour has begun and it'll run through Cleveland in Week 1 when the Browns and Panthers square off. The Mayfield Era in Charlotte could begin with a win against his old team. This story just writes itself.
Losers - Seattle Seahawks Fans
I'm sorry, Seahawks fans. You almost had Baker Mayfield and now you're stuck with Drew Lock. What a heartbreaking time to be a member of the 12th Man. It seemed like Seattle was ready to pull the trigger on Mayfield, especially after they dealt their franchise quarterback, Russell Wilson, to the Denver Broncos. With the front office signaling a rebuild on the horizon, the timing just wasn't right for the Seahawks to pull the trigger on another potential franchise QB.
Billy, this is Drew Lock. He throws a better ball than any QB in the NFL.
His defect is that he never knows where the ball is going. pic.twitter.com/J0tW8G4aLR
— Jarad Evans (@PFF_Jarad) July 6, 2022
Or was it? I fully understand that if you want to rebuild, you need to amass some high first round draft picks and Mayfield isn't going to roll over and tank. The Seahawks would need a quarterback who is going to go out there and lose while also trying their hardest. That's Drew Lock, I suppose. Woof. Sorry, Seattle.
Winner - The Carolina Panthers
SWEEEEEEET, SWEEET VICTORY! The Carolina Panthers have a decent quarterback for the first time since Came Newton was fully healthy. After a few seasons of "what are we even trying to do?" the Panthers made the correct decision and snagged Mayfield from the Browns for relatively cheap. Not to mention, the Panthers also drafted Matt Corral out of Ole Miss in the 2022 NFL Draft, which provides some solid insurance should something happen to Mayfield this season or down the line. This trade is an absolute robbery.
Not only does Carolina now have a solid QB to match with McCaffrey, but they didn't have to waste any big pieces in acquiring him. If Carolina tried to make this deal happen within 48 hours of the Browns acquiring Watson, there's no way they get away with splitting his contract and a conditional pick. Absolutely no way. If you're a Carolina Panthers fan and you're not happy right now, check your pulse. You may be dead. This is a game-changer for the Panthers. Training camp is about to get fun.
Loser - Sam Darnold
Oklahoma product Mayfield was the crown jewel of the 2018 NFL draft, selected just two picks before Sam Darnold out of USC. Darnold had the bad fortune of being selected by the Jets, who have a terrible history of selecting quarterbacks in the first round. As a Jet, Darnold came into East Rutherford, New Jersey at maybe the worst point in franchise history. The Todd Bowles Era was ending with a whimper as the Jets finished 4-12 in 2018. Looking for some new ideas, the Jets brought in Adam Gase, who went 7-9 in 2019 and then 2-14 in 2020, before he was rightfully fired.
Darnold wasn't the problem, but he wasn't the solution either. The Jets failed to give their first-round selection any semblance of help and instead opted to stay stingy in the offseason, refusing to sign any players of substance. After another tough season in 2020, the Jets opted to deal Darnold to the Panthers in favor of drafting another quarterback in BYU's Zack Wilson, who has faced similar issues in New York as Darnold had.
Needless to say, a big reason why the Panthers made this deal for Mayfield is because of how disappointing Darnold has been. When a QB appears to like throwing interceptions more than touchdowns, you may have a problem on your hands. And now, with Corral coming in as a clear solid choice as backup and Mayfield immediately becoming No. 1 on the depth chart, Sam Darnold's career is at a crossroads. Without the playing time to showcase his abilities to other teams, it might be time for Darnold to begin looking at other options post-NFL.
Winner - Jacoby Brissett
Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Jacoby Brissett knows that better than anyone. No other player has benefited more from biding their time and putting in the work than Jacoby Brissett.
When Tom Brady was suspended for Deflategate and Jimmy Garrapolo got injured, who started for the Patriots and kept them afloat? Jacoby Brissett. Who served as Andrew Luck's backup in his final NFL seasons with the Colts? Jacoby Brissett. In 2021, when Tua Tagovailoa went down with a rib injury who replaced him? Jacoby Brissett. And who signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Browns right before they traded for a quarterback who may be suspended indefinitely and then traded their other starter-quality quarterback to the Panthers?
Jacoby Brissett is a "right place, right time" kind of player and you simply have to respect it.
Loser - The Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns were on the right path heading into the offseason. Sure, Baker Mayfield was playing hurt for the back half of the 2022 NFL season, but it's not like he was super-damaged goods. Unless there's some news we don't know about regarding Mayfield's shoulder, it's hard to not see Cleveland's quarterback shift as anything other than a gamble.
It's possible Deshaun Watson doesn't play this season or ever again, which would then mean that all of this was for nothing. If Watson is suspended indefinitely and the Texans' picks are returned, then the Browns are staring down the barrel of a potentially win-less season. The Browns have to go out and have a season like no other in 2022 to make this deal worthwhile. Because if they don't, this could be one of those "worst moves in NFL history" type of moments that we see a "30 for 30" about in the future. If this fails, it's on you Cleveland General Manager Andrew Berry, as he's the man who had Baker Mayfield traded.
When you're the Cleveland Browns and you're fighting to stay above .500 every season since the internet was invented, maybe it's best to not tempt fate and push all of your chips in.
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