Baker Mayfield insists there is “no animosity” as he moves on from the Browns to his new team in Carolina. Don’t take that to mean he’s not looking forward to what potentially could be his first start with the Panthers.
Not when the Sept. 11 season opener in Charlotte is going to be against his former team from Cleveland.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a special one,” Mayfield said Tuesday in a Zoom conference with Charlotte-area media. “It’s going to be a home game and playing against a former team. A similar situation to what I’ve gone through in the past, transferring from college (Texas Tech) to college (Oklahoma). I gotta handle it the best way possible and my job is to put our team in the best position to win.”
Tuesday marked the first time Mayfield met with the media since the Browns sent him to Carolina last Wednesday in exchange for a conditional fifth-round 2024 pick. Panthers general manager Scott Fetterer confirmed multiple reports that the pick will rise to a fourth-round selection if Mayfield plays at least 70% of the team’s snaps this season.
Mayfield, whose agreement to eat about $3.5 million of his 2022 salary allowed the deal to cross the finish line. Made his own deal since Wednesday, agreeing to compensate punter Johnny Hekker in order to wear No. 6.
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“You know, six is special to me, and not because it was ever my favorite number,” Mayfield said. “It was the number I was given as a walk-on at Texas Tech, and when I transferred to Oklahoma, they thought it was my favorite number, so they gave it to me again, and it’s just kind of stuck. To me, it kind of symbolizes my story, my history with that, and I truly enjoy being able to represent that.”
Mayfield comes to Carolina ostensibly to battle with fellow 2018 top-three pick Sam Darnold to be the one taking the first snap against the Browns. The former was the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland, while the latter was taken No. 3 by the Jets.
“I think when you’re at any level as high as this, the NFL, nobody has the mentality of being a backup,” said Mayfield, who indicated Darnold was one of the first Panthers to reach out to him following the trade. “We’re at this level because we compete to be the very best and that’s why Sam’s here as well. … My intention is to become the best quarterback I can be, help this team win and that’s why I’m happy to be in Carolina.”
Mayfield’s competitiveness was often the fulcrum upon which his four-year stint with the Browns seemed to constantly turn. It was that competitiveness which endeared him to fans as a rookie when he came off the bench in Week 3 to lead a come-from-behind Thursday-night win over the Jets which snapped a 19-game losing streak.
It also led to Mayfield often getting into spats with various individuals, be it inside the facility or outside of it. His former Browns teammates have been quoted as saying the issues which he had with Odell Beckham Jr. a year ago, per multiple reports, proved to be “a distraction” at times.
Mayfield acknowledged the issues have been a learning tool for him as he heads into a new situation. However, he wasn’t going to pretend that he was going to be a different person by nature.
“There’s definitely a lot of lessons and experiences that I learned from when it comes to, you know, keeping some things in-house,” Mayfield said. “But also, being myself. That’s why I was drafted there, was to help turn that place around and be the best version of myself. … I’ve always been vocal and being able to bring guys and elevate them. So there’s balance, but that competitive nature, that’ll never go away. If I do that, then I shouldn’t be playing anymore.”
Mayfield would start the rest of his rookie year, a 7-8-1 season which ended with the Browns playing a Week 18 game in Baltimore which could’ve earned them a playoff berth. That playoff berth would come two years later, when Cleveland went 11-5 in the regular season and won its first playoff game since 1995.
“Cleveland’s a special place, and there’s teammates and friendships and bonds that we all contributed to that special run and to help turn that around,” Mayfield said of the credit for the 2020 playoff season. “There’s guys that are lifelong friendships that I’ll have, that are very special to me and near and dear to Emily and I that we’ll never forget about. I’m never a ‘me’ guy; I’m a team-first win guy, and we had a good time there.”
The issues arose in the years before and after that playoff season. The 2019 season, with Freddie Kitchens having been elevated to head coach and the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. to the receiving corps, ended with a 6-10 season.
Last season, the Browns came in with Super Bowl expectations, but stumbled to an 8-9 finish. Mayfield was squarely in the crosshairs for that season, which got off to an inauspicious start for him when he suffered a significant shoulder injury in the first half of a Week 2 win over Houston.
That shoulder injury plagued Mayfield throughout, leading him to miss a Week 7 win over Denver before shutting things down prior to the season finale against Cincinnati. He completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Mayfield said the injury and the rehabilitation process from it has led to him unlocking things with his motion while working with his personal coach, Jeff Christiansen.
“When it comes to the shoulder, I’m not one for excuses because I was too stubborn to come out anyway,” Mayfield said. “My throwing motion was extremely violent, so that was probably the most hindering reasons why. I’ve made some small changes. … (Christiansen) has helped me get back to a form where I haven’t thrown the ball this well in a long time. My throwing motion looks a little different, and I’m thankful for that.”
Despite the way his Browns career ended, Mayfield also acknowledged he’s thankful for the four years he did get in Cleveland. Specifically, he acknowledged the Browns fans.
“The fans in Cleveland are what makes that town so great,” Mayfield said. “It’s a special sports town. They care about their Browns. It’s tradition-rich and generations of families who’ve been Browns fans for life. … I think I wore my heart on my sleeves, that’s how I’ve always done it. Give everything I have, and it’s a blue-collar town. I’m grateful for those four years.”
Just as Mayfield’s grateful for the chance that’s potentially awaiting him on Sept. 11. The opportunity to beat the team that traded him in his first game with his new one.
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