Baker Mayfield trade a calculated risk for Panthers

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Some teams are simply blessed with elite quarterback talent. When you have a Patrick Mahomes, a Josh Allen, an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady—life in the NFL is a lot easier to bare.

Most teams, however, are not so fortunate. And unfortunately for the Carolina Panthers, they’re one of those not-so-blessed teams.

So, on Wednesday, they kept on trying to answer their own prayers—coming to terms with the Cleveland Browns on a trade for the displaced Baker Mayfield. Holy moly, huh?

Well, this deal should have you—specifically Panthers fans—thinking more than just that. It should also have you thinking that your organization has itself quite a savvy general manager.

Now, yes, Mayfield isn’t a permanent answer for Carolina’s longstanding problems at the quarterback position, at least not right now. Heck, he may not even be this year’s answer.

Despite acquiring the (kinda) shiny new toy, the Panthers will still hold a competition for the starting job in 2022—with Sam Darnold, who won’t be cut simply due to his guaranteed $18.8 million take, and rookie Matt Corral set as the challengers.

But what Mayfield certainly is, is a low-risk investment that possesses some medium-to-high risk rewards—a craft Scott Fitterer has gotten quite adept to during his time in Carolina.

Let’s start with the fit, particularly the monetary one. Here’s where the patience from Fitterer and the Panthers really paid off . . . literally.

After the Browns gave the keys, the car and the whole damn house to Deshaun Watson a few months back, Mayfield became expendable. Cleveland, who suddenly had a spurned and expensive player on its hands, held little to no leverage in having to dump off a largely mediocre and disgruntled quarterback.

That, in turn, allowed Carolina—seemingly the only team seriously in on Mayfield—to wait and watch them squirm. The Browns then squirmed into the deal and agreed to pay $10.5 million of Baker’s $18.8 million payout for 2022.

The Panthers, who also got Mayfield to trim that base salary down an extra $3.5 million, could end up dishing out as little as approximately $5 million to give him a try. Plus, even with Darnold’s money remaining in the fold, the trade still leaves Carolina with $20.4 million in cap space—currently the third-most in the league.

As far as the return for Cleveland, it’ll only be a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick. Even if Mayfield were to perform well and trigger the $3.5 million back in incentives and possibly turn the fifth into a fourth, it’s not exactly a huge price to pay for a former No. 1 overall pick who hasn’t been absolutely terrible over his four-year career. (Also, who else is really out there anyway?)

While he has thrown the most interceptions (56) in football since 2018, when he entered the NFL, he’ll walk into this locker room as the most proven quarterback in the room. And although that’s not saying much given said locker room, the guy led the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs in 2020.

The Cleveland Browns! That has to count for something!

On a more serious note, Mayfield has some intriguing upside as a player—something that was difficult to achieve given the ever-fluctuating and deteriorating circumstances at his last gig. He is a pretty exciting improviser, he does fit offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s timed-based, quick-hitting vision and will have a handful of potent playmakers (Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr. and old friend Rashard Higgins) to do it with.

And if he doesn’t do it, well, at least they have a decision maker that’s willing and able to try. Fitterer has done so with Darnold and Corral—and even with cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and CJ Henderson to a different degree.

Unless you have your savior, you have to keep on trying until you find him. Or, perhaps we can just call this another calculated Hail Mary.

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