Baker Mayfield Is Dangerously Close to Watching $3.5 Million Go Up in Smoke

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Baker Mayfield during a Panthers-Cardinals matchup in October 2022

Baker Mayfield already played his way out of a starting position with one NFL franchise. Unfortunately for the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick, it might not be long before he loses his job again. 

To make matters worse, if Mayfield fails to convince the Carolina Panthers to keep him atop the depth chart, he will also say goodbye to a sizable amount of money.

Baker Mayfield hasn’t come close to cementing his case as Carolina’s long-term QB

Baker Mayfield during a Panthers-Cardinals matchup in October 2022
Quarterback Baker Mayfield of the Carolina Panthers walks to the sideline following a play during the second half of their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium on October 02, 2022 | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After four up-and-down years in Cleveland, Baker Mayfield received a fresh start with the Panthers. However, despite a change in scenery, the 27-year-old signal-caller has experienced some of the same struggles that plagued him with the Browns. 

In fact, you could argue that Mayfield is in the midst of his worst NFL season. 

The fifth-year pro has completed just 54.7% of his passes for 747 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. Coming off a 2021 campaign in which he posted a career-low 35.1 QBR, Mayfield’s current mark of 15.3 puts him well behind Justin Fields (26.2) for last among the league’s 32 starters. 

Largely ineffective and with his new team off to a disappointing 1-3 start, the inconsistent quarterback is at the most pivotal point of his football career.

The 2018 No. 1 overall pick is poised to miss out on millions

To facilitate his way out of Cleveland, Mayfield boldly decided to bet on himself. Unless things change quickly, that gamble will come back to bite the Panthers’ current QB1. 

Mayfield agreed to take a pay cut to orchestrate the trade that landed him in Carolina. As a result, he entered the season with the opportunity to earn $3.5 million via playing time- and performance-based incentives. 

Based on his first four games as a Panther, it’s clear he stands little chance of cashing in. And if Matt Rhule (someone else with little job security) can’t stomach having the league’s 17th-ranked scoring offense, Mayfield could find himself standing on the sidelines next to his head coach sooner rather than later. 

Besides having nearly $2 million of his incentives tied to postseason playing time and success, Mayfield’s regular-season incentives are based on playing 75% of the offensive snaps. Although he’s played all 224 thus far, he faces the possibility of being replaced by Sam Darnold, who is still working his way back from a high ankle sprain that forced him to start the season on injured reserve. 

So, even though Mayfield may retain his job for a few more weeks, if the Panthers rack up more losses, don’t be surprised if Rhule makes the switch to a healthy version of Darnold at some point.

The Panthers have several problems to solve if they plan on making the playoffs

Other than their quarterback situation, the Panthers have additional problems to solve if they want to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2017. 

Where else does the team need to improve? 

First, Carolina must get better tackle play. Mayfield has been sacked 11 times, which certainly has contributed to some of his struggles. Top draft pick Ikem Ekwonu ranks 61st out of 70 offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Meanwhile, veteran Taylor Moton (42nd) hasn’t fared much better on the right side. 

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers have to figure out how to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Only the Las Vegas Raiders (five) and Arizona Cardinals (four) have recorded fewer sacks. Brian Burns (three sacks, five quarterback hits) needs one of his teammates to step up and provide more of a punch. 

In addition, the Panthers’ front seven has to prove it can stop the run. Opposing offenses have averaged 134 rushing yards per game against Phil Snow’s defense–a significant jump from last year’s average of 113.8. 

Whether Carolina has the pieces to take a leap forward on offense and defense remains up for debate. 

On one hand, the team has intriguing young players like Ekwonu, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, and cornerback Jaycee Horn. 

On the other hand, Mayfield has been anything but a hit, Christian McCaffrey has experienced more injury issues, and star safety Jeremy Chinn has landed on IR due to a hamstring problem. 

Ultimately, the odds of the Panthers going from 1-3 to making the playoffs seem just as slim as Baker Mayfield’s chances of earning the $3.5 million he surrendered to find a new NFL home.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football ReferenceContract info courtesy of Spotrac

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