Former #1 overall draft pick quarterback Baker Mayfield was released from the Carolina Panthers (at his request) on the tail end of Week 13 during their bye week. Mayfield, in less than one year, has gone from presumed franchise quarterback for Cleveland Browns to being out on the NFL streets. And though he will probably get scooped up by a team in need of quarterback depth down the stretch, this still represents a crossroads for Mayfield’s career after a failed season in Carolina.
Baker Mayfield at Career Crossroads After Getting Released From Carolina Panthers
The Fast Fall From Grace
It is actually fairly remarkable just how fast the wheels fell off for Mayfield’s career. In 2018 he had the most passing touchdowns for a rookie in NFL history (27) in only 14 games. In 2020 he helped the Browns to their first playoff appearance in eighteen years, which included a playoff win over their rival the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then in 2021, the love suddenly died down after he threw for 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
At the time, it seemed that he was getting a lot of undue criticism given that he played almost the whole season with a partially torn labrum. Even though it was his non-throwing shoulder, it was clear that the injury was affecting his play – and really, the mistake was letting him play given this fact. Then the Browns got involved in the Deshaun Watson trading sweepstakes – and ultimately won them – and Mayfield felt understandably disillusioned with the team and asked to be traded, hence him ending up on the Panthers.
A Disastrous 2022
The 2022 season was easily Mayfield’s worst so far and does raise some question of just how good he really is. He finished with 1,313 yards, six touchdown passes and interceptions each, averaged 6.4 yards per attempt, and had a completion percentage of 57.4%. While the TD:INT ratio is already low, he did only play seven games. The other two statistics are more alarming and are career lows for him. Sure, the Matt Rhule era went down in flames, but it’s not like Mayfield didn’t have weapons. He’s had D.J. Moore and Terrance Marshall Jr (who has looked promising lately) to throw to, and Christian McCaffrey before he got traded. And yet he played some of the worst football of his career.
It’s actually mildly bizarre how much Mayfield’s career has collapsed. It’s not like he’s incapable of playing well. Granted, he has never been top-ten material, but he had an undeniably great rookie season, and he played quite well as a game manager in a run-first attack in the 2020 playoff campaign – and made plays when he needed to. The injury in 2021 could have excused his poor season that year, but this year he has looked just downright bad for the most part.
Given that Mayfield was in the last year of his rookie deal and the Panthers will likely be drafting a new quarterback in the Draft, it was almost a foregone conclusion at this point that Mayfield would be coming back to the Panthers after how this season has gone. It is mildly surprising, though, that they cut ties this quickly even if Mayfield instigated the request.
As was earlier stated, someone will likely pick up Baker Mayfield for quarterback depth down the stretch. The San Francisco 49ers have been touted as a suggestion, given that they just lost Jimmy Garoppolo for the season. Even in a case like that, though, he may not be the starter given that Brock Purdy played well off the bench. There are other teams that may be interested, but it’s hard to see him getting another start this late in the year barring more injuries.
The question is more of what will happen to him next off-season. As usual, multiple teams may be in the hunt for a new quarterback. But it’s hard to see Mayfield being high on the list as a potential starter. He may have to take on a backup job – or a competition at best – and try to work his way into a team’s good graces. It wouldn’t be unlike Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota spending a year or two on the bench after getting dumped by their respective teams and then eventually getting a chance again as a starter on a new team.
So ultimately, Mayfield may simply have to be patient. He may get lucky and get a chance to start again next year – or even later this year. But he may have to work and wait for his next starting opportunity after two consecutive poor campaigns (even if one of those years was not entirely his fault). Other quarterbacks have ended up in similar positions and come back from it. The question is if Mayfield will be able to do the same.