Carolina Panthers v Cleveland Browns

Panthers reportedly have the “inside track” to land Baker Mayfield

Carolina Panthers v Cleveland Browns

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The Panthers apparently hope to corner the market on top-three draft picks from 2018 who play quarterback and who are due to make $18.8 million in 2022.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Panthers have “the inside track to land” to land Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.

The report raises more questions than it answers, especially since it mentions that there are “several interested teams,” but doesn’t name any of them.

Mayfield, in a recent podcast appearance, mentioned only the Colts (while acknowledging that the ship has sailed) and the Seahawks. It’s unclear why the Panthers would want Mayfield. Unless it’s all part of a pre-draft smokescreen, it could mean that the Panthers have decided as to the top options in the 2022 quarterback class “none of the above.” With the Panthers striking out twice on Deshaun Watson and currently staring down the barrel of a full season of Sam Darnold, Mayfield could become the latest trial-and-error option in David Tepper’s ongoing hedge-fund quest for a franchise quarterback.

It’s even less clear why Mayfield would want the Panthers. He knows that 2022 has become a pivotal season for him. Why would he want to play for a team with a coach on the hot seat and a fifth- or sixth-choice offensive coordinator, given that the candidates knew they were taking a job with a team whose owner has a finger hovering over the reset button ?

The biggest factor that gets overlooked in the various reports and speculations regarding Mayfield’s destination is the power he possesses. Yes, he only gets his $18.8 million if he shows up. But if he makes it clear he doesn’t want to play for a given team before that team trades for him, why would that team want to do the deal?

The Panthers currently have Darnold, the third pick in the 2018 draft, under contract at the identical guaranteed salary as Mayfield. Mayfield’s next team surely wouldn’t be paying all of it, especially since Cleveland’s only alternative to keeping him on the roster (and lovers of chaos should be rooting for that outcome) would be cutting him, having someone else pay him the minimum of $1.035 million, and forcing Cleveland to pay roughly $17.7 million for him to play for someone else.

The rub is the timing. The Browns can squat on Mayfield, delaying his opportunity to get properly ensconced elsewhere. How would Mayfield respond? Would it make him more likely to accept a trade to wherever? Or would he decide that he’s going to show up for everything, exacerbating the distraction that his lingering presence would create — at a time when the team already has 22 distractions at the most important position on the roster?

Cabot says that the move from Mayfield to Mayberry “could happen sometime over the next couple of weeks.” Two weeks from today, the draft will have come and gone. And maybe, just maybe, the vague hint of the Panthers wanting Mayfield at some point in the next two weeks is meant to keep other teams from thinking that the Panthers will target a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in the draft — or at a lower spot if they eventually trade down.

If all else fails, they can trade for the player whom receiver Robby Anderson has already made it clear he doesn’t want on the team.

Maybe lovers of chaos shouldn’t be pulling for the Browns to keep Mayfield, but to send him to Carolina.

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