Baker Mayfield must earn the starting quarterback job with the Carolina Panthers in an “open contest” with Sam Darnold this summer, general manager Scott Fitterer confirmed Tuesday.
“The reason we added Baker was to improve the group as a whole,” Fitterer said after the Panthers officially finalized their trade with the Cleveland Browns for the former No. 1 overall pick. “Sam is a very important part of this competition. … I think they will both step up and play their best football that they have.”
Fitterer added that there have not yet been talks of extending Mayfield’s contract as both he and Darnold enter the final year of their current contracts. And he said there were no discussions about trading with Darnold.
“We’re going to let it play throughout the season and make decisions later in the season whether it’s November or December once there’s a track record behind (Mayfield) on that offense and that organization. …I just want to take it short-term for now,” said Fitterer, who added that third-round rookie draft pick Matt Corral will have an opportunity to “learn at his own pace” and from “some pros in the room” to learn, which includes backup PJ Walker.
Mayfield, meanwhile, said Darnold contacted him the day after the deal was agreed last week and offered to help him with things like finding a place to live and arranging an informal training session with new teammates before training camp in two weeks begins.
“It’s going to be special, and I think we’re going to help each other out quite a bit,” Mayfield said of Darnold – who was drafted two picks behind him in the 2018 NFL draft.
Mayfield said nobody at that level has the attitude of being a backup — but he vowed to take on whatever role the team has in mind while also becoming “the best quarterback I can be … a great leader.” and a great teammate.”
One thing Mayfield has already secured, however, is the number 6, which he’s worn since college – thanks to the generosity of punter Johnny Hekker, who signed with the Panthers earlier this year but agreed to switch numbers.
“I’ve had my own negotiations with Johnny,” joked Mayfield, who said the No. 6 has become special to him and “represents my story,” even though it was originally chosen for him as a walk-on at Texas Tech.
Mayfield also mentioned his college trip to Oklahoma from Texas Tech when he said he was no stranger to the type of transition he is now making. He also said that he “sadly” had to adjust to playing annually for multiple head coaches and offensive coordinators during his first four years with the Browns.
“The schedule is different (in this case),” said Mayfield – who said he had already started “cramming a lot” before officially receiving his playbook on Tuesday.
But he and Fitterer both mentioned that his familiarity with current Panthers and former Browns offensive line coach James Campen, as well as terminology and protection calls, will help with the transition.
Fitterer was asked about a March report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that a Browns source had told him the team wanted to replace Mayfield with “an adult in that position.” Fitterer said that he and the Panthers did a lot of homework before making the trade and said that “a lot of people really hit out for Baker,” with some coaches even calling the Panthers unsolicited to recommend him.
“We’re very comfortable with Baker, we’re excited to have him in the space and we look forward to working with him,” Fitterer said. “In the end, this turned out to be a fiery, competitive guy. He wants to win, he wants to be great. And I think as an organization we’re embracing that mindset.”
Mayfield chuckled as he said he learned many lessons from his ups and downs in Cleveland. But he said he cares more about how his teammates perceive him than media reports and that his “competitive nature will never go away”.
“If I do that, I shouldn’t play anymore,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield and Fitterer both acknowledged it took a long time to finally negotiate the deal, which included Mayfield agreeing to convert $3.5 million of his guaranteed salary into incentives (with the Panthers paying $4.86 million and the Browns paid $10.5 million).
“It hasn’t been very easy for the past few months,” said Mayfield, who said “I don’t think there was a manual” for figuring out how to split salary to make a deal like this work.
“For me it was about the next steps forward and finding a new place, somewhere I wanted to go, where I would go and compete.”
The Browns will get a fourth- or fifth-round pick in exchange for Mayfield in 2024. Fitterer confirmed that Mayfield needs to play 70% of the snaps for the draft pick to be a fourth-rounder.
Mayfield said there was no animosity toward Cleveland, but he conceded that “shocked” was the only way to describe his reaction to the team’s decision to replace him with a blockbuster trade for Deshaun Watson.
And Mayfield told the Panthers’ website that he’s aware Carolina is opening its season with a home game against Cleveland.
“I’m not going to sit here and be a robot and tell you I haven’t marked that on the calendar yet,” Mayfield said.
Unfortunately, however, Mayfield suggested the moving experience would not become a new part of his ad campaign with Progressive Insurance, for which he previously pretended to live in Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
“I think this is a missed opportunity,” Mayfield joked.