Baker Mayfield will start the Carolina Panthers’ regular-season opener against his former team, the Cleveland Browns. Panthers coach Matt Rhule made the announcement on the team’s website on Monday.
Mayfield, acquired in a trade with the Browns earlier this offseason, beat out incumbent starter Sam Darnold for the job. The news was expected as Mayfield had outperformed Darnold during most of training camp.
“When we started this process, we were looking at three things,” Rhule said. “Number one, mastery of the offense, number two, situational football excellence, and number three, moving the ball and getting guys involved. That’s been our focus all along. Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time.”
Both Mayfield and Darnold are expected to play in the team’s preseason finale on Friday night against the Buffalo Bills. Neither Mayfield nor Darnold has seen much action in the preseason and both were held out of last week’s game against the New England Patriots.
Mayfield was the No 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, while Darnold went at No 3 to the New York Jets. Darnold was traded to the Panthers last year after struggling to establish himself with the Jets and failed to shine in Carolina last season. Mayfield helped the Browns to the playoffs in 2020, but carried an injury in 2021 and was 6-8 as the team’s starter. He was surplus to requirements in Cleveland after the team traded for Deshaun Watson.
“It’s not a redemption year,” Mayfield said last week. “I know what I’m capable of. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody else. I’m just trying to lead this locker room the best I can and win a bunch of ballgames.’’
Rhule originally said the Panthers would keep three quarterbacks on the roster, but that was before rookie third-round draft pick Matt Corral suffered a Lisfranc ligament tear in his foot.
“All along, we’ve felt like we need to have a really strong quarterback room, and have every quarterback ready to play,” Rhule said. “The reality of this league is most teams will play multiple quarterbacks. Sam has worked incredibly hard, played really well for us during training camp, and will be ready to go if and when it’s needed.”
Mayfield is due to make $18.1m this season, with the Browns picking up $10.5m of his salary. Darnold is set to earn a similar amount ($18.58m)