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As if going from being the No. 1 overall pick to watching his team give the largest contract in NFL history to another quarterback wasn’t already a difficult pill to swallow, Baker Mayfield had to surrender a significant sum to facilitate a trade to the Carolina Panthers.

With the Cleveland Browns betting big on Deshaun Watson, it was simply a matter of time before the two sides split. And with training camp right around the corner, Mayfield finally secured his freedom from the franchise that took him ahead of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.

Ironically, instead of signing a long-term contract extension to remain in Cleveland for years to come, the former Heisman winner had to agree to a pay cut. And after becoming the first player off the board in the 2018 draft, Mayfield got dealt for a conditional fifth-round selection. 

Needless to say, Browns fans have to be incredibly disappointed with the way the Mayfield era transpired, especially given the number of stars who’ve emerged from the 2018 draft. 

Baker Mayfield took a hefty pay cut to join the Carolina Panthers

Baker Mayfield at the Oklahoma spring game in April 2022
Baker Mayfield smiles as he is honored with the unveiling of a life-size statue of him during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on April 23, 2022 | Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Just how much did the 27-year-old signal-caller give up? According to Joseph Person and Zac Jackson of The Athletic, the Panthers initially wanted Mayfield to slash his salary by more than $7 million. However, following a pre-trade meeting with head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer, he agreed to a pay cut of $3.5 million. 

Ultimately, that sacrifice allowed Mayfield to orchestrate his way out of a shaky situation — into another one. After all, as much as Cleveland has fallen short of expectations in recent years, Carolina has yet to post a winning record since 2017. And after winning five games in each of his first two seasons at the helm, Rhule undoubtedly enters the 2022 season on perhaps the hottest seat of any of his peers. 

But after foolishly believing they could fix the ultra-flawed Sam Darnold, the Panthers actually should have some semblance of optimism about their offense. In fact, unlike the ex-New York Jet, Mayfield has a solid shot at bouncing back from what can only be described as an abject disaster of a season. 

What happened in Cleveland wasn’t all Baker’s fault

With a shoulder injury limiting his effectiveness, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound quarterback completed 60.5% of his passes for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 14 starts. Mayfield’s 35.1 QBR easily ranked as the lowest of his four-year career and absorbed a career-high 43 sacks. 

Still, putting all the blame on his shoulders would be unfair. Let’s not forget the Browns dealt with injury issues throughout the season, including with big-name receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was later dealt to the Los Angeles Rams. Plus, the organization hasn’t exactly been a model of stability, as Mayfield played for four head coaches from 2018-21. 

Assuming he can put his health issues behind him, the former Oklahoma star can set himself up for a substantial raise over his 2022 salary of $4.858 million. In fact, after sacrificing $3.5 million to orchestrate his exit from Cleveland, Mayfield could earn a lucrative reward in the form of a multi-year pact with his new team. 

With no form of financial security, he has every reason to immerse himself in the playbook, build chemistry with his receivers and execute the game plan efficiently. With the Browns replacing him with Watson — a three-time Pro Bowler who didn’t play a down in 2021 and whose NFL future still remains murky — he has plenty of motivation to prove his former employers wrong.

And with the Panthers in desperate need of a legitimate QB1, he has a golden opportunity to convince the franchise to invest in him for the long haul. 

Mayfield will certainly need help in Carolina to look good

Of course, Mayfield will need help from his teammates and coaches to make this all happen. While it’s hard to have much faith in Rhule or offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, it’s fair to be optimistic about the supporting cast around the team’s new starting quarterback. 

At running back, Christian McCaffrey must overcome his own persistent injury issues. But at his best, he’s easily a top-five player at his position. 

Meanwhile, the potential of a wide receiver corps that includes 2018 first-rounder DJ Moore, veteran Robby Anderson, and 2012 second-rounder Terrace Marshall Jr. should make Mayfield supporters excited. Despite dealing with a shaky quarterback situation, Moore has totaled three straight 1,100-yard campaigns. The athletic pass-catcher could be in line for an even bigger year if Mayfield looks like his 2020 self. 

Plus, the offensive line will be significantly better in 2022, with first-rounder Ikem Ekwonu taking over at left tackle. The unit also features stud right tackle Taylor Moton and 2021 third-rounder Brady Christensen at left guard. 

Are the Panthers a top-10 unit on that side of the ball? 

Probably not. 

Can they at least be league-average, if not slightly better? 

If McCaffrey stays healthy and the line provides solid protection, it’s entirely possible for Mayfield and Co. to put up points on most defenses. Should that occur, it will certainly be interesting to see how Carolina addresses its quarterback situation moving forward. 

Will Mayfield convince owner David Tepper to abandon the idea of going after a true superstar at the position? With the league’s top quarterbacks making north of $40 million nowadays, the Panthers would have to decide just how far they’d be willing to go to keep the former Brown in town. 

Either way, if Baker Mayfield uses the weapons around him effectively, he should finally land that elusive second contract. 

And even if he doesn’t get top-dollar and settles for something similar to Jared Goff’s four-year, $134 million deal, that $3.5 million pay cut won’t matter one bit.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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The Cleveland Browns Will Pay Baker Mayfield $10.5 Million Not to Play for Them This Season