CLEVELAND, Ohio – “There’s no downside for Carolina.”
That’s what Ellis Williams told me about the Browns sending Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers for a future fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Williams should be a household name for many cleveland.com readers. The Panthers drummer was part of our Browns cover team for two years before taking a job at the Charlotte Observer at the start of last season.
So Williams watched Mayfield in Cleveland and the Panthers in 2021. He’s a unique prospect, which is why I called him. Over the past three seasons, the Panthers have been 5-12, 5-11 and 5-11. They went through four QBs: Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen and Cam Newton. Carolina head coach Matt Ruhle is fighting to keep his job after 10 wins in his first two seasons with the Panthers.
The Panthers have hired several former Browns assistant coaches: James Campen (offensive line), Chris Tabor (special teams), Al Holcomb (linebackers) and Steve Wilks (defensive backs). The new offensive coordinator is Ben McAdoo, a former New York Giants head coach.
And yes, old friend and Baker Buddy Rashard Higgins is in Carolina.
There is an element of desperation in Carolina. Former head coach of Baylor, Ruhle must at least get closer to the playoffs. This is the goal for 2022.
None of this should be news for Mayfield, who came to the Browns after going 4-44 the previous three seasons. Despair. The framework changes. A new list. He went through all of this and more.
“How many head coaches has Baker had?” Williams asked me.
“It’s been five years in five years,” I said.
“He had to learn new offenses quickly before,” Williams said. “It will help him here.”
MAYFIELD AGAINST. DARNOLD
“The team says it’s open competition between Darnold and Baker,” Williams said. “But I expect Baker to start. He’s better than Darnold.
The Panthers are also counting on Mayfield, otherwise why trade for him with training camp just weeks away?
Mayfield was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. Darnold was the Jets’ third pick. Darnold was never able to do much in his career. Meanwhile, two of Mayfield’s four seasons have been good in Cleveland.
The Panthers also have rookie Matt Corral, a third-round pick from Mississippi. They have PJ Walker and Davis Cheeks – giving them a total of five people in their QB room. But the Panthers are counting on an over-motivated Mayfield on the last season of his contract to revive the franchise.
As for Darnold, in his last two seasons he is 6-17 as a starter. Most disturbing are his 18 TD assists against 24 interceptions. That’s why the Panthers made the deal. I heard the two teams agreed to terms of trade a few weeks ago, with the Browns paying $10.5 million on Mayfield’s $18.8 million salary.
The last part was Carolina reworking Mayfield’s contract. The QB agreed to give up $3.5 million in salary. He has a chance to recoup this through incentives based on matches played.
Ultimately, Carolina acquired Mayfield for a midfield draft pick and only paid $4.8 million of his salary.
“It’s a good deal for the Panthers,” Williams said. “They really have nothing to lose because they gave up so little.”
THIS IS NOT JACKSONVILLE
“The team has talent,” Williams said. “DJ Moore (93 receptions) is an Amari Cooper type receiver, maybe better. Christian McCaffrey (Pro Bowl offensive) is healthy. The offensive line is better. It’s not Jacksonville (the Jags were 3-14 last season). »
The Panthers ranked 30th in overall offense, 29th in runs scored (17.9 per game) last season. McCaffrey has only played 10 games over the past two seasons. In 2018-19, he averaged 1,245 rushing yards and caught an average of 110 passes per season. That’s right, a running back catches over 100 balls in a season.
The Panthers invested in their offensive line. They made North Carolina State left tackle Ikem Ekwonu the No. 6 pick in the draft. They signed veteran free center Bradley Bozeman and guard Austin Corbett. Yes, that’s the same Corbett who was selected first in the second round by former Browns GM John Dorsey in 2018. He played little as a rookie. The Browns waived him a year later, trading Corbett to the Rams. He became an immediate starter at guard and played on a Super Bowl-winning team.
He signed a 3-year, $26 million contract with Carolina.
“The offensive line won’t be as good as Baker’s in Cleveland,” Williams said. “But it should still be pretty good.”
The Browns line was hit hard by injuries to tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. last season. Mayfield has been sacked 43 times, a career high.
Carolina’s defense ranked No. 2 in yards allowed. It’s a talented unit.
“That’s why most of the fans here are excited,” Williams said. “They know if Baker improves the offense, the Panthers have a chance to be a much better team.”
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