BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns have agreed to trade quarterback Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a conditional draft pick, a source confirmed to ESPN.
The Panthers will pay $4.85 million of Mayfield’s salary, while the Browns will pay $10.5 million, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Mayfield has agreed to forgo the remainder of his $18.8 million salary to facilitate the deal, which is pending a physical, the source said.
The Browns will get either a fourth-round or fifth-round pick in 2024, depending on Mayfield’s playing time at Carolina.
The news was first reported by NFL Network.
2018 draft pick Mayfield joins a Panthers team that already has 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold on its quarterback depth chart. The Panthers also selected Matt Corral in the third round of this year’s draft.
Now Mayfield and Darnold, who faced off to become the No. 1 in 2018, will face off again in training camp to fight for the right to be the Panthers’ starter this season.
The Mayfield trade follows Cleveland’s blockbuster deal with the Houston Texans, which landed quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns gave Watson a new five-year contract worth $230 million, which is the richest guaranteed-money deal in NFL history by a margin of $80 million. Cleveland also gave up three first-round picks as part of the deal, the first team to do so for a single player since the Minnesota Vikings traded three first-round players to the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for running back Herschel Walker.
With Mayfield gone, the Browns now have starter Watson at quarterback along with Jacoby Brissett and Josh Dobbs. However, Watson may not be available to the Browns at all this season. He was accused in civil lawsuits by 25 women of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. His hearing before jointly appointed NFL and NFL Players Association disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson ended Thursday after three days.
The NFL has been pushing for a suspension for at least a year, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, who reported that both sides made multiple attempts to reach an agreement during the hearing but continued to be unable to reach an agreement. There is no timeline for Robinson’s decision.
With Watson suspended, the Browns are expected to start Brissett as quarterback.
The Watson trade effectively ended the Mayfield era in Cleveland. The Browns picked the former No. 1 Heisman Trophy winner in 2018 and he made his debut off the bench in Week 3 of this season, rallying the Browns to their first win in 635 days. He came second in voting for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and broke the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdowns. That record was later broken in 2020 by the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, who finished with 31 touchdown passes.
However, Mayfield’s tenure overall was marred by inconsistencies, drama and a left shoulder injury that plagued him throughout the 2021 season.
During his four years in Cleveland, Mayfield grew increasingly frustrated with a franchise that had made him the fourth quarterback in NFL history to play for four different head coaches in his first three seasons, according to multiple sources. Even after Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff win in 26 years in the 2020 season, the team declined to approach Mayfield’s camp about a possible contract extension once he became eligible for one, a signal to Mayfield that he may not be with the team much longer -schedules.
Mayfield then suffered a labrum tear in his non-throwing left shoulder in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Rather than sit out or have season-ending surgery, Mayfield worked through the injury and struggled for much of the season. A season after finishing in the top 10 QBR in 2020, he fell to 27th in 2021, the largest QBR drop (-30.4) of any passer in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Still, both Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry have repeatedly publicly reiterated over the past two months that Mayfield would remain their quarterback.
At the February combine, Berry Mayfield’s agents said the Browns could go after an elite quarterback like Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, according to a source familiar with the call. Mayfield’s camp was also aware that Watson could eventually be shortlisted, despite the fact that 22 civil cases were pending at the time alleging inappropriate behavior and sexual assault during massage sessions.
On March 12, when a Texas grand jury declined to seek criminal charges against Watson, the Browns made their move and secured a meeting with Watson in Houston.
Multiple sources told ESPN Mayfield was upset that the Browns had not informed him directly that they were meeting with Watson; Instead, he found out about it through social media. Mayfield responded with a statement That Evening thanking the city of Cleveland and its fans “who have really embraced who I am” while Browns officials flew back from Houston.
However, the turning point for Mayfield with the Browns came the following day.
On March 16, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that a Browns source told him the team wanted to replace Mayfield with “an adult in that position.”
Mayfield applied for a trade the next day. The Browns initially told him they would “not honor his request.” But after Cleveland landed Watson, that made Mayfield expendable.
As a result, Mayfield is only the third quarterback in NFL history to be drafted first overall to have survived four or fewer seasons with the team that drafted him, according to ESPN Stats & Information, joining JaMarcus Russell (Raiders) and Jeff follows Georg (foal).