BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns have agreed to trade quarterback Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a conditional draft pick, a source confirmed to ESPN.
The Panthers will pay $4.85 million of Mayfield’s salary while the Browns will pay $10.5 million, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Mayfield has agreed to forgo the remainder of his $18.8 million salary to facilitate the deal, which is pending a physical, the source said.
The Browns will receive either a fourth- or fifth-round pick in 2024, depending on Mayfield’s playing time in Carolina.
The news was first reported by NFL Network.
Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, joins a Panthers team that already has Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall selection in 2018, on its quarterback depth chart. The Panthers also selected Matt Corral in the third round of this year’s draft.
Now Mayfield and Darnold, who competed with each other to become the No. 1 pick in 2018, will compete again in training camp to vie for the right to be the Panthers’ starter this season.
The Mayfield trade comes on the heels of Cleveland’s blockbuster deal with the Houston Texans that landed quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns gave Watson a new five-year deal worth $230 million fully guaranteed, the richest deal in guaranteed money in NFL history by a full $80 million. Cleveland also surrendered three first-round picks in the deal, the first team to do so for a single player since the Minnesota Vikings traded three first-rounders to the Dallas Cowboys for running back Herschel Walker in 1989.
With Mayfield gone, the Browns now have starter Watson along with Jacoby Brissett and Josh Dobbs at quarterback. Watson, however, might not be available to the Browns at all this season. He has been accused in civil lawsuits by 25 women of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. His hearing before the NFL and NFL Players Association’s jointly appointed disciplinary officer, Sue L. Robinson, finished after three days last Thursday.
The NFL has been pushing for a suspension of at least a year, according to Graziano, who reported that both sides engaged in multiple attempts to reach a settlement while the hearing was still happening, but remain unable to agree. There is no timetable for Robinson’s decision.
If Watson is suspended, the Browns are expected to start Brissett at quarterback.
The Watson trade effectively ended the Mayfield era in Cleveland. The Browns selected the former Heisman Trophy winner No. 1 in 2018 and he made his debut in Week 3 that season off the bench and rally the Browns to their first victory in 635 days. He went on to finish second in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting while breaking the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdowns. That record was later broken in 2020 by the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, who finished with 31 touchdown passes.
Mayfield’s tenure overall, however, was marred by inconsistency, drama and a left shoulder injury that plagued him throughout the 2021 season.
And over his four years in Cleveland, Mayfield, according to multiple sources, had grown increasingly frustrated with a franchise that had made him the fourth quarterback in NFL history to play for four different head coaches in his first three seasons. Even after Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff victory in 26 years during the 2020 season, the team declined to engage Mayfield’s camp about a potential contract extension once he became eligible for one, a signal to Mayfield he might not be in the team’s long -term plans.
Mayfield then left played a torn labrum to his non-throwing shoulder in Week 2. Instead of undergoing or undergoing-season surgery, Mayfield through the injury and struggled for much of the season. One season after finishing in the top 10 in QBR in 2020, he fell all the way to 27th in 2021, the largest QBR dropoff (-30.4) of any passer in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Still, over the last two months, both Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry repeatedly had publicly affirmed that Mayfield would remain their quarterback.
At the combine in February, Berry did tell Mayfield’s agent the Browns might pursue an elite-level quarterback, like Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, according to a source familiar with the conversation. Mayfield’s camp was also aware that short list could eventually include Watson, even with 22 civil cases pending alleging inappropriate behavior and sexual assault during massage sessions.
On March 12, when a Texas grand jury declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson, the Browns made their move, securing a meeting with Watson in Houston.
Multiple sources told ESPN that Mayfield was angered that the Browns didn’t inform him directly that they would be meeting with Watson; instead, he found out about it over social media. Mayfield responded with a statement that night thanking the city of Cleveland and its fans “who truly embraced who I am,” while Browns officials were flying back from Houston.
The breaking point for Mayfield with the Browns, however, came the following day.
On March 16, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported a Browns source had told him that the team wanted to replace Mayfield with “an adult at that position.”
Mayfield requested a trade the next day. The Browns initially told him they were “not accommodating his request.” But after Cleveland landed Watson, that made Mayfield expendable.
As a result, Mayfield becomes just the third quarterback in NFL history to go No. 1 overall in the draft and last four or fewer seasons with the team that drafted him, according to ESPN Stats & Information, joining JaMarcus Russell (Raiders) and Jeff George (Colts).