Baker Mayfield’s Season Has Officially Gone From Bad to Worse

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Baker Mayfield during a Panthers-49ers matchup in October 2022

To say it’s been a rough 12-15 months for Baker Mayfield would be a bit of an understatement.

In 2020, life was good. He had the best season of his young career, led the Browns to an 11-5 record, resulting in the franchise’s first postseason appearance in 18 years, and gave Cleveland its first playoff win since 1994.

But the 2018 No. 1 overall pick regressed in 2021, barely throwing more touchdowns than interceptions as the Browns went 8-9 and missed the playoffs. Mayfield was then forced to watch Cleveland replace him with Deshaun Watson and award him a fully guaranteed five-year contract worth $230 million, the highest guaranteed contract in NFL history.

To make matters worse, the Browns struggled to find a team willing to take on Mayfield’s salary in a trade. When he was finally dealt to the Carolina Panthers, he took a massive pay cut with the hope he would play well enough to earn a big contract of his own as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

But that hasn’t worked out for him either. Through five games, Mayfield has completed just 54.9% of his passes (32nd in the NFL) for 962 yards (23rd) with four touchdowns (tied for 23rd) and four interceptions (tied for fourth-most). The Panthers are 1-4, Matt Rhule is now unemployed, and Mayfield’s season has officially gone from bad to worse.

Baker Mayfield is set to miss several weeks with an ankle injury and may not take another snap for the Panthers

Baker Mayfield during a Panthers-49ers matchup in October 2022
Baker Mayfield of the Carolina Panthers looks to throw the ball during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at Bank of America Stadium on October 09, 2022 | Mike Comer/Getty Images

Near the end of the first half of Carolina’s 37-15 Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Mayfield suffered a left ankle injury that forced him into the locker room. He returned to play the majority of the second half but was pulled once the game was out of reach and showed up to his postgame press conference in a walking boot.

He admitted to being in pain and that he didn’t know exactly what the injury was, saying everyone would know more on Monday.

Well, the assessment is now in, and it’s not good news, depending on who you ask, anyway. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner has a high ankle sprain and is expected to miss “at least a couple of weeks.” And that’s certainly not good news for Mayfield.

For one, he has an incentive in his contract that would help him recoup some of the salary he lost if he played 75% of the Panthers’ offensive snaps. There’s another that pays him if he earns 10 wins, but let’s not even pretend that’s happening.

The more significant issue is that depending on how much time he misses, Mayfield may not see the field again in 2022. And that’s not a good thing in a contract year.

As the only healthy quarterback on the roster, former XFL standout PJ Walker is expected to start in Week 6 when Carolina visits the defending Super Bowl champion LA Rams. Walker hasn’t played great in limited NFL action, throwing two touchdowns against eight interceptions, but is 2-0 as the Panthers’ starter over the last two years.

If he plays even remotely well in Mayfield’s absence, could interim head coach Steve Wilks stick with him? But Walker obviously isn’t Baker’s biggest threat. Sam Darnold, who’s been out all season with an ankle injury of his own, could be ready to return at about the same time as Mayfield.

Given Mayfield’s struggles this year, could the man taken two spots after him in 2018 get his job back? Things were already looking bleak enough for the Progressive pitchman, and the future doesn’t look much brighter.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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