CHARLOTTE, North Carolina
The Panthers now have two of the top three overall picks in the 2018 NFL Draft class on their roster, and both happen to be quarterbacks.
The big question is which one will start this season for Carolina.
The Panthers view their starting QB position as an open competition between newly acquired Baker Mayfield and incumbent Sam Darnold, a competition that will ultimately be decided in training camp and in preseason games.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule previously said he considered Darnold his starter, but that was before the team announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to a trade with Cleveland for Mayfield, whose relationship with the Browns quickly deteriorated after they began chasing and then landed Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Trade talks between the Panthers and Browns had been dragging on for months, but the deal only materialized when Mayfield helped bridge the financial gap between the teams by agreeing to take a $3.5 million pay cut. dollars. The Browns will pay Mayfield $10.5 million in 2022 and the Panthers will pay him $4.8 million.
Mayfield passed his physical with the Panthers on Thursday and the contract is expected to be finalized and signed early next week, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has a deal that has not yet been signed.
Both Mayfield and Darnold are expected to become unrestricted free agents after the season.
Mayfield enters the competition with a presumptive advantage over Darnold – at least on paper.
The former Oklahoma No. 1 pick is 29-30 as an NFL starter in four seasons with Cleveland, helping lead the Browns to a playoff victory in 2020 after going 11-5 in the regular season. He threw for 14,125 yards with 92 touchdowns and 56 interceptions.
Darnold, the No. 3 pick in 2018, is 17-32 as a starter with the Jets and New York Panthers and has never posted a winning season, let alone made the playoffs. He threw for 10,624 yards with 54 touchdowns and 52 interceptions.
But for Mayfield to win the job, he’ll first have to win over new Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, a former critic of his, and catch up on installing the team’s playbook.
When McAdoo left football in 2018, he told the New York Post that he had many reservations about Mayfield in the NFL, including his height, his athleticism, the size of his hand and the offense in which he played. was playing with the Sooners.
“I haven’t seen a lot of pro-style football on his college tape,” McAdoo said. “And if you’re short you have to be able to compensate somehow, and personality doesn’t do that. I didn’t think he was a great athlete. This guy is kind of like a pocket quarterback who is short and with small hands, that’s what worries me.
And then there’s Panthers wide receiver Robbie Anderson, who earlier this offseason responded to reports that Mayfield could end up in Carolina by responding with “Nooooo” on social media.
Anderson has since said he was trying to support teammate Darnold and it wasn’t meant to be a dig at Mayfield. He also tweeted on Wednesday, “I have no problem with Baker, stop trying to paint this narrative.”
The addition of Mayfield represents Carolina’s latest attempt to find stability at quarterback.
The Panthers haven’t made the playoffs since 2017, and owner David Tepper has said in the past that the team’s top priority is cementing their QB spot.
The revolving door started in earnest in 2000 when Carolina replaced longtime starter Cam Newton with Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater went 4-11 in 15 starts before being dealt to the Denver Broncos after just one season.
The Panthers then sent three picks to the New York Jets for Darnold last year, thinking they could resuscitate his sagging career. But Darnold struggled to make decisions behind a patchwork offensive line, going 4-7 as a starter with 13 interceptions and nine touchdowns while being sacked 35 times. The team re-signed Newton midseason, but he failed to win in five starts and was not brought back that offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
It seems the team have been looking for Darnold’s replacement since he finished 5-12 last season.
Carolina set her sights on Watson, making a big push to land the controversial QB only to lose to the Browns. And Carolina drafted Matt Corral from Mississippi in the third round in an effort to develop him for the future.
If nothing else, Mayfield’s arrival adds some intrigue to Carolina’s regular-season home opener against the Browns on Sept. 11.
TickPick, a secondary ticket marketplace, reports that it sold more tickets Wednesday for the Browns-Panthers game after the swap announcement than for all of June combined and that the cheapest ticket rose from $78 to $133.
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