Baker Mayfield’s Time as Panthers’ Starter May Not Last Long | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

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The Carolina Panthers’ decision to name Baker Mayfield their starting quarterback is the equivalent of walking into a classroom completely unprepared for a test.

Mayfield could end up being the correct answer under center for the Panthers even though they didn’t take the proper steps to get it right. He also might turn out to be the wrong answer, which will leave them scrambling to make up for it later.

Mayfield essentially became the Panthers’ fallback option this offseason after the Cleveland Browns acquired Deshaun Watson. A last resort might be all Mayfield ever is for them since their current setup isn’t necessarily conducive to winning right away.

In December, Panthers owner David Tepper discussed the importance of finding a long-term answer under center, per the Charlotte Observer‘s Alaina Getzenberg:

“I think when you get to quarterbacks and NFL in general, you always want to try to figure out, do you have the best that’s in the position of this right now? And that’s constant evaluation and re-evaluation of that. And that’s what we’ll constantly go through.”

“It’s an ongoing process and it’s a question of who can be that guy that can help you win. That’s the most important position on the field. … Unless you have that guy for sure that gets you to playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep reevaluating that because that’s the only thing that matters is Super Bowls. And until you have that guy, you’re evaluating, evaluating, evaluating every year.”

Last year, the Panthers failed to swing a deal for Matthew Stafford. This offseason, they “had discussions” with the Seattle Seahawks for Russell Wilson, according to Joseph Person of The Athletic, but nothing materialized. Their interest in Watson dates back to last season, but the Browns wound up acquiring him instead. Matt Ryan was never a realistic option because the Atlanta Falcons weren’t likely to trade him within the division.

Mayfield became the best remaining available option, and the Panthers did not have to spend much to acquire him. They sent a conditional 2024 fifth-round draft pick to Cleveland while taking on only $4.85 million of Mayfield’s fifth-year option, per ESPN’s Jake Trotter.

Mayfield will be an upgrade under center for Carolina. He has been inconsistent throughout his four-year career, but he’s shown more than Sam Darnold during that span.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the Panthers’ long-term solution, though.

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Sports Illustrated”s Albert Breer reported 18 months ago that Tepper was “obsessed” with finding a long-term solution, but he did not immediately jump on the opportunity to acquire Mayfield. Instead, Tepper reportedly viewed the 27-year-old as a “depressed asset,” according to Person and Zac Jackson of The Athletic.

That seems like a good starting point for a long, fruitful relationship, no?

The NFL’s richest owner isn’t used to failure and shows little patience. Just look at his other business dealings to understand his tolerance level. His company paused construction and then terminated an agreement to build a new practice facility in Rock Hill, South Carolina, as the two sides squabbled over the payment schedule. He fired the head coach of his MLS franchise, Charlotte FC, only 14 games into the franchise’s inaugural season.

What’s going to happen if the Panthers don’t emerge as a playoff team and surprise Super Bowl contender this season? Turnover is the most likely answer.

Head coach Matt Rhule has gone 10-23 over the past two seasons. He didn’t turn around Temple or Baylor until his third season with each program, so Tepper probably expects the same with the Panthers.

If Carolina struggles again, Rhule could be gone after this season. A rumor already popped up this offseason that Tepper is “eyeing” Sean Payton as a potential replacement for him, according to Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy.

Carolina is talented and capable of continuous improvement. But the roster still has plenty of question marks, too.

After two injury-plagued seasons, will running back Christian McCaffrey stay healthy? Can wide receiver DJ Moore build upon the career-high 93 catches he hauled in last season? Robbie Anderson can still be a vertical threat, but he initially wasn’t thrilled about the idea of ​​playing with Mayfield. Rashard Higgins already developed a strong rapport with Mayfield during their time together with the Browns, but he has never caught more than 39 passes in a season. Carolina fields one of the league’s best young defenses, but leading sack-artist Haason Reddick and starting defensive tackle Daquan Jones left in free agency.

The offensive line may be the biggest hang-up for any hope of success.

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Right tackle Taylor Moton agreed to a long-term contract extension last summer. The Panthers signed guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman in free agency and drafted Ikem Ekwonu with this year’s sixth overall pick.

The left side is the potential problem area. Uncertainty remains at left guard, and Ekwonu will need time to develop after being named the starting left tackle. Protection could be a significant issue all season if the line doesn’t come together quickly.

Mayfield’s performance will play a significant role, too. And the Panthers aren’t setting the bar too high for him.

“We’re hoping that he moves the offense,” Rhule told reporters Monday. “I don’t want to make it too simple. But I think he’s a guy that’s accurate. He’s a guy that’s smart, plays fast. He knows where to go with the ball. He’s still adjusting to our mechanics, our footwork. So I think making this move now gives him time to really settle in with some guys.”

According to BreerMayfield gained the upper hand over Darnold because of his “processing, timing and field vision.”

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Those traits were exactly what Mayfield lacked during most of his tenure in Cleveland, particularly last season. His pocket presence completely disappeared whenever he was pressured, which could be a significant issue based on the Panthers’ current offensive line. He looked shell-shocked at times. His game is predicated on being a distributor; he isn’t going to take over games by himself.

At times, Mayfield looked like a future franchise quarterback. He set a then-rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. The confidence, pocket movement and natural arm talent he displayed helped turn around a previously winless squad.

When Mayfield is working in rhythm and within the confines of the offensive scheme, he can be deadly accurate. He’s often let down by his footwork and mechanics once defenses speed up his clock, though.

His second season in Cleveland proved to be a disaster with an incompetent staff leading the way, and the Browns went in another direction that offseason. The 2020 campaign showed how Mayfield could help lead a team into the playoffs, and he finished among the top 10 leaguewide in QBR. Everything fell apart last season when he suffered multiple injuries, missed reads, airmailed passes and never looked like the player everyone saw upon his arrival in Cleveland.

Tepper may have been onto something when he viewed Mayfield as a depressed asset. Damaged goods could be another way to describe a player with such an up-and-down performance through four seasons. Cleveland had every right to pursue an upgrade at the position.

Conversely, Mayfield’s potential makes him a low-risk/high-reward investment, especially since he’s shown more than anyone else currently on the roster.

“To be honest with you, I feel extremely healthy. So I’m ready to go,” Mayfield told reporters. “I’m loving football again. A fresh start is great for everyone every once in a while.”

It’s fair to wonder how long of a leash Mayfield will have this season. He’s heading into the final year of his rookie contract. The Panthers aren’t committed to him beyond this season. Had third-round rookie Matt Corral not suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury, he might have played later this season if Carolina fell out of the playoff race, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

Mayfield will help determine the direction of the Panthers organization this season. If he makes the grade, all will be moot. But there’s a real chance of the entire setup backfiring, which would once again leave the Panthers scrambling for answers at the game’s most important position.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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