There were only two destinations that made sense for Baker Mayfield prior to the start of training camp and he wound up being traded to one of them. The Carolina Panthers pulled the deal and got $10.5 million towards the cap hit and Mayfield for a conditional 2024 draft pick.
As Ben Fawkes noted, oddsmakers don’t see a big difference between Darnold and Mayfield and made very slight changes to the futures odds. The consensus across the market seems to be that Mayfield is about a point or 1.5 points better than Darnold, given the movement we’ve seen for the Week 1 game between the Panthers and Browns and also what we’ve seen with the adjustments to the vig on the team’s win total.
DraftKings Sportsbook has Mayfield listed at 12/1 to be the Comeback Player of the Year, trailing Derrick Henry (3/1), Jameis Winston (+ 550), Michael Thomas (7/1), Christian McCaffrey (+ 750), Daniel Jones (8/1), Mitchell Trubisky (10/1) and J.K. Dobbins (10/1). Now that he has a new team, we can consider him for the award, but there’s some stiff competition in there.
What does this trade mean for the Panthers in 2022? Given that Darnold posted a 9/13 TD/INT ratio and was sacked 35 times in 12 games, it’s hard to argue that Mayfield can play the position better. On the other hand, he’s coming off of a major shoulder operation and a few other injuries. He’s also had two bad seasons and two good seasons in his career, so you never quite know which Mayfield you are going to get.
The Panthers have plenty of talent around Mayfield. A healthy McCaffrey would make a huge difference, but Chuba Hubbard was a star at Oklahoma State and showed some flashes as a rookie. DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson and Terrace Marshall Jr. make up a really interesting receiving corps. Mayfield is also reunited with former teammate Rashard Higgins. This is also a solid offensive line with sixth overall pick Ikem Ekwonu at left tackle and some quality veterans at the other spots, including another former Brown in Austin Corbett.
Calling Baker an upgrade over Darnold is less of a question and more of a statement. However, as VSiN’s own Mike Pritchard pointed out to me, there are questions about what this means in the locker room. It is no secret that Mayfield is on the final year of his rookie deal. What would it take for the Panthers to either franchise tag him or offer a long-term extension? How will he mesh with the locker room when his departure from Cleveland was so public and with a reputation that seems to be less than sterling?
It seemed like a stretch for Carolina to be bad enough to get the chance at Bryce Young or CJ Stroud in the 2023 NFL Draft, but what if Baker’s extra win or two is the difference between a franchise QB and purgatory at the position again next season? Does Mayfield really transform the Panthers into a playoff contender? Is the acquisition worth the hassle and the potential downside risk it brings for the future? How do those dynamics play out on the field?
Maybe the Panthers do win seven or eight games, but perhaps the preferred betting approach is not with season-long futures or props. Instead, consider what Mayfield means on a weekly basis. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo looks to be incorporating some Air Raid concepts into the offense and Mayfield has been a more accurate and effective passer than Darnold, but we know he comes with the same turnover concerns. Could the Panthers, despite a solid defense, be a sneaky over team on a weekly basis now?
Time will tell and we’ll have to use training camp and the preseason to see how healthy Mayfield is and ascertain if he’s even going to beat Darnold out for the job, but today’s trade didn’t seem to do much for the Panthers in the present or the future.