CLEVELAND — After once being considered the future of the franchise, quarterback Baker Mayfield will no longer be a Cleveland Brown, being traded by the team in a deal with the Carolina Panthers.
According to a league source, the Cleveland Browns have traded Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers for 2024 conditional fourth or fifth-round draft pick.
The deal is pending on a physical which has been scheduled for Thursday.
Cleveland will pay Mayfield $10.5 million and the Panthers will pay him $5 million. According to a league source, Mayfield agreed to take a $3.5 million pay cut in his base salary to get the deal done.
Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam issued the following statement about the trade:
"We want to thank Baker for all his contributions to the Cleveland Browns," Dee and Jimmy Haslam said. "From the moment he was drafted, he gave his all for this organization and this city. With his fierce competitive spirit, he excited the fanbase and accomplished things that no player at his position had done in Cleveland for a very long time. He also made a difference in the community, whether it was hosting events at the Boys and Girls Club, honoring our troops, supporting the Special Olympics as well as countless other charitable endeavors. We are grateful for everything he did for this organization and wish him and Emily well in the future."
General Manager Andrew Berry released this statement:
"Baker Mayfield infused our organization with tenacity and grit during his time as our starting quarterback," Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry said. "Baker's competitiveness, toughness and ability to persevere were all characteristics that endeared him to our city as well as his teammates. He will always have a unique place in Browns history for what he accomplished and we wish him well as he continues his career."
The Browns face the Panthers in Week 1 this season, scheduled for Sept. 11 at 1 p.m. in Carolina, and Mayfield has the potential to be Carolina's starter at that point. Mayfield will be rejoining his former teammate Rashard "Hollywood" Higgins in Carolina after the wide receiver signed with the team as a free agent earlier this offseason. The two displayed plenty of on-field chemistry during their time together in Cleveland and will look to continue that with the Panthers now that they've been reunited.
The Mayfield trade, though, comes four months after the Browns traded for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns traded for Watson and 2024 fifth-round pick, sending a 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick, 2023 third-round pick and 2024 fourth-round pick to Houston. The Browns gave Watson a record-breaking fully guaranteed contract from the Browns—a 5-year $230 million deal. Berry had made clear that the organization would be exploring their options at every position this offseason, including at quarterback—something that rubbed Mayfield the wrong way once the process began.
The Browns had been pursuing Watson, sending top staff including Berry, Jimmy Haslam and head coach Kevin Stefanski to Houston to meet with the quarterback after his deposition. The deposition comes after a grand jury declined to indict Watson following a police investigation following the filing of 22 civil lawsuits filed by women alleging sexual misconduct. Some of the women in the lawsuit allege Watson exposed himself, purposely touched their hands with his genitals, or forcefully tried to kiss them and perform other sexual acts during separate massage sessions.
Watson also faces possible discipline by the NFL, which could include suspension. Watson had a hearing with NFL and NFLPA jointly appointed disciplinary
officer Sue L. Robinson last week, and after post-hearing briefings are filed, a decision about a suspension is expected to be made.
Not surprisingly, in the end the push the Browns made for Watson proved too much for Mayfield and his relationship with the team. Following the Browns' meeting with Watson, Mayfield took to social media and posted an emotional letter thanking the city and fans for supporting him amid his uncertain future. Two days later, Mayfield requested a trade from the Browns. The Browns at the time said that they did not plan to accommodate the request.
Then they made another push for Watson.
Just before Mayfield requested a trade, the Browns had been informed that they were out of the running from acquiring Watson, and that he would not be interested in waiving his no-trade clause to come there. However, after additional meetings with the Saints and a meeting with the Atlanta Falcons, Watson continued weighing his options, with the Falcons considered front runners at the time.
Berry and Watson's agent David Mulugheta developed a great relationship and kept in contact through the entire process of the trade. That relationship helped in the long run to win over Watson, according to a league source. The mega-contract also didn’t hurt.
Losing Mayfield has been a particularly tough reality for fans, who have rallied around Mayfield since 2018 when he was drafted with the first overall pick in hopes of ending the Browns’ decades long search for a franchise quarterback.
In his NFL debut, Mayfield gave the Browns their first win in 19 games against the New York Jets, turning a corner from the recent and unforgettable (though most would like to) 0-16 season.
A few weeks after his debut, Mayfield’s first head coach, Hue Jackson, was fired after starting the season 2-5-1. It seemed the ship that had all but submerged was being righted. The Browns and Mayfield went on to finish the season 5-3 under interim head coach Greg Williams and even had a small chance at making a postseason, although that didn’t happen.
Mayfield started his second season with promise, but a sophomore slump quickly ensued. With his third head coach, Freddie Kitchens, at the helm, a promising team fell into shambles, and Mayfield looked worse for the wear. While he showed more of the arm talent in his 3,827 passing yards and second season with 20+ touchdowns, he also threw 21 interceptions and seemed to be struggling with field awareness week in and week out.
Kitchens was fired after a dismal 6-10 season that once again saw the Browns miss out on a postseason, which was par for the course in the expectations of Cleveland fans.
Entering his third season, Mayfield appeared to take a hold as the Browns franchise quarterback with new head coach Kevin Stefanski leading the charge.
Mayfield bumped his passer rating to 95.9 while passing for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns, and reducing his interceptions to just eight for the season. With Mayfield’s strong performances in the second half of the year, Cleveland ended their 17-season playoff drought and beat their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the first round, getting their first playoff win in 26 years. The Browns were perhaps a play away from beating the Kansas City Chiefs to make their first AFC Championship game since 1989, but ultimately saw their season come to an end.
Unfortunately, all of that good was thrown out the window in 2021. Coming off their best season in over two decades, expectations were high for the Browns. A tough Week 1 matchup saw the Browns once again face off against the Chiefs, and despite a loss, the Browns looked as though they were still legitimate contenders. Until, that is, Mayfield suffered a shoulder injury the following week, made worse as the season went on.
Mayfield played through a torn labrum and fractured humerus bone, but whether or not he should always remained a question. Between the Odell Beckham Jr. saga that saw the star receiver pitted against Mayfield, general poor game play from the quarterback and tiffs Mayfield had with the media, the season turned into a nightmare.
The Browns went 8-9 in 2021, missing the playoffs and bringing back the questions that had haunted the team for years—”is this the franchise quarterback?”
In the end, the Browns answered that question with a resounding no by trading for Watson and sending Mayfield to (enter team in trade).
Mayfield showed grit, swagger and passion in his four years in Cleveland. He was the face of the turnaround from 0-16. His “underdog” mentality resonated within much of the fanbase. His ego made for quotable moments such as “I woke up feeling dangerous,” “Jesus, Tony,” and the many pop culture references he dropped throughout press conferences.
While his ego was appreciated during wins, it could also be polarizing. Including the “Jesus, Tony” line, Mayfield had numerous tiffs with the media. He’d regularly answer questions with snark and at the fever pitch of his fracture with the team, he skipped a postgame media session entirely.
Mayfield at one point was a glue within the locker room, branching out to different position groups across all sides of the ball and bringing his teammates together on and off the field. A polarizing figure at times also saw the flipside of that, with several teammates unhappy with him last season for numerous reasons, some stemming from the aforementioned polarizing ego, which is fun when you’re winning—not so much when you’re losing.
In the end, many will want to reflect on the good moments, and try to put the less positive parts of Mayfield’s tenure in Cleveland behind them.
And rightfully so. While he wasn’t perfect, Mayfield has become a major piece in the story of the Cleveland Browns. And no matter how fans feel about the situation, it’s undeniable that while the Mayfield door may be closing, his time in Cleveland will certainly be memorable.