Baker Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers were pretty clear from the start.
Hours after Mayfield requested a trade from the Cleveland Browns, the word was out about their mutual disinterest.
Wide receiver Robbie Anderson piled on, posting his distress at the thought of a Mayfield trade on social media.
— The Riot Report (@RRiotReport) April 15, 2022
But as the 2022 NFL Draft prepares to kick off, it seems the Panthers are Mayfield’s best bet at a starting job.
Mayfield needs a successful season to rehabilitate his NFL career.
And in Carolina, he might save head coach Matt Rhule’s job while he’s at it.
A month ago there was “mutual disinterest” between the Panthers and Baker Mayfield. Now the Panthers have the inside track to get him. I see you, Matt Rhule. pic.twitter.com/aoCl0DqAGD
— Joe Ovies (@joeovies) April 18, 2022
But there is another thing throwing some water on the trade rumors.
Carolina doesn’t want to pay Mayfield’s full salary while Cleveland expects to get more for a team’s next starting QB.
Maybe there is a way to sweeten a deal for Baker Mayfield that helps the Panthers and the Browns?
Swapping Fifth Year Options
Carolina is set to accept they made a grave error trading 2 draft picks for Sam Darnold last season.
GM Scott Fitterer already told Darnold the team will add a quarterback to compete for his starting role.
Darnold was part of the same 2018 NFL Draft class with Baker Mayfield.
And he is also playing on a guaranteed $19 million fifth-year option.
OK, so both teams cringe at the thought of paying all/part of their 5th-year options. So what if Berry takes on Darnold as part of a Mayfield deal? #Browns get 2023 2nd and 6th, plus Darnold for Mayfield and a 2022 6th? Maybe Berry can salvage a 7th or a little cash for Darnold?
— PoppsNFLstuff (@opperman_pat) April 27, 2022
Neither Fitterer nor Browns’ GM Andrew Berry is thrilled about paying too much of those guarantees.
But their quarterbacks are not the most tradable commodities at the moment.
One answer might be to include Darnold in any deal for Mayfield.
Each team still has the money on the books, but they can start to move on from their miscalculations.
What That Deal Would Look Like
Berry would be happy to avoid paying any part of Baker Mayfield’s salary.
But he adds a fifth wheel in Darnold while the Panthers land their 2022 starting quarterback.
Taking on Carolina’s mistake makes Darnold sort of a Brock Osweiler, bumping up the compensation for Mayfield.
Straight up, Mayfield is expected to land little more than a 4th or even an early fifth-round pick.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 25, 2022
But making the deal salary-neutral for the Panthers is worth a couple of rounds.
Berry can make the deal more appealing by taking future picks, say a 2nd and 3rd-day pick in 2023.
Carolina retains the #6 overall selection this year, their only pick in the first 3 rounds.
Our best deal is Mayfield and a 2022 6th for Darnold and Carolina’s 2nd and 6th round picks in 2023.
Hedging the Bet With Conditions
Another option is to make the 2023 picks conditional on how Mayfield does in Carolina.
Berry could ask for his elusive first-round pick if the Panthers extend Mayfield after a bounce-back season.
Carolina’s head coach and GM are in a must-win season after a couple of shaky efforts.
They should be happy to switch the 2nd-rounder to a first-rounder if they make the playoffs.
— The Cold Wire (@thecoldwire) April 25, 2022
And maybe the sixth-round pick can bump up to a fifth-round selection as well.
On the other hand, Berry can agree to give back the sixth-round selection if Mayfield is benched or released.
Sam Darnold could bring a small return from a team in search of a veteran backup, too.
Even if Berry can’t land a draft pick for him, Darnold’s new team will contribute the veteran’s minimum to his salary.
What About Seattle, Others?
Seattle sounds like they plan to draft a new quarterback in 2023 if Drew Lock doesn’t get it together.
They are unwilling to pay Mayfield’s salary if he is only a one-year stop-gap.
Geno Smith and Lock can win a few ball games while the Seahawks work on their rebuild.
But if Berry agrees to pay half or more of Mayfield’s guaranteed dollars, they might still be buyers.
Fitt: "We know we need to stabilize that (QB) position, and we look forward to adding to it."
Adds that Panthers have options in the draft and otherwise. Will draft first before considering trade candidates (he didn't mention Mayfield or Jimmy G. by name).
— Joe Person (@josephperson) April 26, 2022
Rumors of a deal involving Mayfield and a third-round pick for DK Metcalf are unfounded.
For all the other proposals heard around Cleveland, Mayfield’s name is not bandied about in other cities.
Detroit, Atlanta, and the NY Giants don’t appear interested and Berry won’t trade with Pittsburgh.
And if Carolina looks elsewhere for answers, Mayfield could be on the Browns’ roster right through training camp.