Carolina Panthers name Baker Mayfield as starting QB for Week 1 vs. Cleveland Browns

CHARLOTTE, NC — Baker Mayfield insists this isn’t a “redemption year,” but he will make his first start as quarterback for the Carolina Panthers against the team that gave him up.

The Panthers on Monday named Mayfield the starter for the Sept. 11 opener against the Cleveland Browns, moving on from the first pick of the 2018 draft after trading the Houston Texans for Deshaun Watson.

Watson won’t play in the opener after being suspended by the NFL for the first 11 games for violating the league’s personal conduct guidelines, so it will be Mayfield vs. Jacoby Brissett.

Mayfield won what the Panthers described as an open contest against 2021 starter Sam Darnold, although league sources said the task was his to lose all the time.

“When we started the process we said we were looking at three things,” said coach Matt Rhule. “No. 1, offense mastery; No. 2, situational football excellence; and No. 3, moving the ball and involving guys.

“Baker has improved a lot in all three areas in a short time, achieved a lot of growth.”

Mayfield said during joint practice against the New England Patriots last week that he wasn’t worried about when the decision would be made.

“I’ve said it before, the locker room and organization will change as the QB room progresses and as long as we lead right and support each other, good things will happen.” Mayfield said, “So we’re not worried about that when that’s going to happen, just trying to get better every day.”

Mayfield never lost confidence after Cleveland dumped him.

“It’s not a year of redemption,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. I’m just trying to run this locker room as best I can and win a few ball games.

Carolina is hoping to get the 2020 version of Mayfield, who went 11-5 to win a playoff game for the Browns with 26 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner battled for a 6-8 record with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season while dealing with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.

The Panthers began looking for an upgrade at quarterback almost immediately after the 2021 season when Darnold went 4-7 as a starter. They were among four teams that took aggressive action against Watson, who had 24 sexual misconduct lawsuits filed against him at the time.

When Watson signed with the Browns, the Panthers explored the possibility of trading around the draft for Mayfield before adding Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round. The heist was Cleveland’s distaste for the bulk of Mayfield’s $18.9 million 2022 salary.

That changed in early July when Cleveland agreed to pay $10.5 million of the contract, leaving the Panthers $4.58 million after Mayfield agreed to a $3.5 million cut dollars with the potential to recoup them as incentives.

According to a league source, being named a starter is the first step to achieving those incentives, 70% of snaps.

Mayfield was not given the job immediately. He and Darnold split the reps evenly over the first three weeks of camp.

But as Mayfield quickly learned the system from offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, it became clear he would win the job. Even McAdoo, who rated Mayfield the sixth-best quarterback in the 2018 draft and had questions about Mayfield’s ability to lead a pro-style offense, was convinced early on.

“Since Baker’s been here for the last two weeks, it’s been pretty impressive,” McAdoo said. “One of his strengths is command. He can lead a space, he can command a space, he can command an offensive. He has a good presence about him. And you know, he’s got a fire in his stomach.”

Mayfield kept his flamboyant personality in check throughout camp, choosing his words carefully and speaking with great respect for Darnold and the competition between them.

Wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who has played with Mayfield in Cleveland for the past four seasons, laughed early in camp at the thought that it was going to be a long time coming.

“He’s just holding onto it at the moment,” Higgins said. “But if it comes out, it will come out. May God be with you when it comes out.”

Perhaps that will happen now that Mayfield has been named a starter and is preparing for the Browns.

“Baker, I’ve seen big trash talk, and he usually has a lot of f-bombs in there,” Higgins said. “I don’t know when it will come out, but it will come out.”‘ Carolina Panthers name Baker Mayfield as starting QB for Week 1 vs. Cleveland Browns

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