CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Baker Mayfield said he was “shocked” to learn that he was not included in the Cleveland Browns’ future plans earlier this offseason.
But the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 2018 has had a few months now to digest the Browns’ decision to replace him with Deshaun Watson and is eager to take advantage of a fresh start with his new team, the Carolina Panthers.
“Shocked, I would say, is pretty much the only way to describe it,” Mayfield said Tuesday. “But you roll with the punches and you’ve got to move forward. This is a test of adversity and how I’m going to handle it and how I can move forward and be the best teammate possible.”
Mayfield said he has no animosity toward the Browns, although he admits Carolina’s home opener against Cleveland on Sept. 11 will be a “special” game.
Often viewed as fiery and outspoken, Mayfield was humble and introspective in his first interview since the Browns dealt him to Carolina for a 2024 conditional fifth-round draft pick.
To help facilitate the deal, Mayfield agreed to take a $3.5 million pay cut. He’ll still make a combined $15.5 million from the Browns and Panthers.
In taking the pay cut, Mayfield is essentially betting on himself with free agency lingering after this upcoming season.
But first he has to win the starting job.
Mayfield joins Sam Darnold in the quarterback room, giving the Panthers the top two QBs from the ’18 draft — but no clear starter heading into training camp.
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer called it an “open competition” and predicts both will get equal reps in practice.
“The reason we have Baker here is to make the whole group better as a whole,” Fitterer said. “Our philosophy is that we want competition, not just in the quarterback room but at every position.”
But past success suggests Mayfield has a better chance of winning the job. He’s 29-30 as an NFL starter, while Darnold is 17-32. Mayfield has thrown 92 touchdown passes and 56 interceptions compared to Darnold’s 54 TD passes and 52 INTs.
Mayfield has also shown he can lead a team to the playoffs, helping the Browns go 11-5 in 2020.
Mayfield avoided questions on whether he expects to be the team’s starter, only saying he wants to be the best quarterback he can be and help the Panthers win games regardless of his role. He said he likes and respects Darnold, who called him shortly after the trade to Carolina was announced.
He doesn’t want a quarterback controversy disrupting the team.
“If there is drama within that room it’s going to permeate through the building and that’s not going to be the case,” Mayfield said. “We’re not going to let that happen.”
Fitterer said the Panthers did plenty of background checks on Mayfield before the trade.
He said he’s comfortable, and even excited, with Mayfield’s approach to the game.
“This is a fiery, competitive guy,” Fitterer said. “He wants to win, He wants to be great. I think as an organization we embrace that attitude. We like guys that are like that. This is a fresh start for him and it doesn’t matter what he’s done in the past.”
Just how long Mayfield — or Darnold — will be in Carolina remains to be seen.
Both QBs are in the final years of their rookie deals and Fitterer said the team is not looking to sign either to a contract extension until they see how they perform on the field.
“We’ll let it play out throughout the season and we will make decisions based on that later in the season, whether that is November or December,” Fitterer said.
And, it’s possible the team could part ways with both and hand over the reigns of the offense to rookie Matt Corral, the team’s third-round draft pick out of Mississippi.
As for the present, Mayfield said he’s hoping to apply the lessons he’s learned from his four years in Cleveland as he begins a new journey in Carolina.
“I’ve learned to control what I can,” Mayfield said. “This has been an offseason that has taught me a lot of patience, a lot about focusing on the priorities and realizing who is in your corner and how to prioritize your life and and just becoming the best version of myself. It’s not it any way how I drew it up, but I’m very thankful looking back on it.”