CLEVELAND (AP) — From the first pick in the draft to being dumped in four years, Baker Mayfield’s wild four-year ride in Cleveland is over.
The 2018 No. 1 pick, Mayfield, was traded Wednesday by the Browns, who moved on from the divisive quarterback months ago and ultimately sent him to the Carolina Panthers for a future draft pick.
Mayfield, who was pushed out of his starting job amid the Browns’ pursuit of Deshaun Watson, is headed to Carolina for a conditional 2024 or 2025 draft pick.
The Browns are paying $10.5 million of Mayfield’s $18.8 million contract for next season, two people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The Panthers will pay $4.8 million and Mayfield will take a $3.5 million cut, said the people who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot be finalized until Mayfield passes a physical.
However, the trade was announced by the Panthers, who will host the Browns in the opener of the upcoming season – with the addition of Mayfield spicing up the game.
Mayfield’s time with the Browns effectively ended in March when the team traded three first-round picks and six overall to the Houston Texans for Watson, who faces a possible suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen massage therapists in Texas.
Mayfield, who played most of last season with a left shoulder injury, felt betrayed by Cleveland’s move to Watson, requested a trade, and then had to wait until the Browns found a team interested in him and willing to take his salary.
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam thanked Mayfield for his contributions.
“From the moment he was drafted, he gave his all for this organization and this city,” they said. “With his fierce competitive spirit, he excited the fans and accomplished things that no player at his position had done in Cleveland in 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, and countless other charitable endeavors.”
The 27-year-old will compete for Carolina’s starting QB job with Sam Darnold, who was drafted twice after Mayfield in 2018.
The Panthers, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2017, have been looking for stability at the quarterback position since head coach Matt Rhule was hired in 2020. They also tried to deal Watson before he chose Cleveland.
Mayfield’s four years with the Browns featured less memorable moments than distractions, as he was unable to end the team’s long search for a franchise QB.
The stay was full of highs and lows, coaching changes, too much drama and not nearly enough wins.
Former Browns general manager John Dorsey was enamored with Mayfield’s talent and swayed by his dribbling, selecting the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma first over other options including Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.
Mayfield began his rookie season as Tyrod Taylor’s backup before coming off the bench in Week 3 and leading the Browns to their first win in 635 days, a 21-17 victory over the New York Jets on national television.
Mayfield finished with 3,725 yards passing and 27 touchdown passes as a rookie, breaking the NFL record for a first-year quarterback. For the first time in years, there was real hope for a struggling franchise that has had 32 starting QBs since 1999.
However, Mayfield’s second season was a serious failure. He threw almost as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns (22) and looked on a different page of the playbook than star Odell Beckham Jr. Cleveland went 6-10 and fired coach Freddie Kitchens.
Mayfield also regularly took issue with commentators who criticized his play and sparred with local reporters. His immaturity was particularly evident on social media, where he often posted rants at detractors.
The 2020 season signaled a turnaround as Mayfield returned the Browns to relevance in their first postseason appearance since 2003. He thrived in first-year coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense, throwing 20 TD passes and just three interceptions in his last 12 games.
Mayfield directed a playoff victory – the Browns’ first since 1994 – over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 10, 2021, and it came just minutes after leading Cleveland to the AFC Championship a week later before losing at Kansas City.
The resurgence has sparked Super Bowl predictions for the Browns in the 2021-22 season and speculation that they will sign Mayfield to a long-term contract.
Neither was close to happening.
After missing the Chiefs’ sensational season opener, the outcome of the game decided when Mayfield threw a late interception, he suffered a torn labrum on his left shoulder the next week while attempting a punt.
The injury worsened when he was sacked by Arizona’s JJ Watt a few weeks later, and Mayfield never found his rhythm until the end of the season. Beckham worked his way off the roster and the Browns stumbled to an 8-9 finish and missed the playoffs.
Mayfield also raised eyebrows by publicly questioning Stefanski’s call.
Mayfield waited out the final and had surgery soon after. Browns general manager Andrew Berry said he expected Mayfield to return as the team’s starter in 2022, but that all changed with the pursuit of Watson.
In recent weeks, as Watson’s legal entanglement dragged on, there was speculation that the Browns might turn to Mayfield. But the quarterback recently said he doesn’t think reconciliation is possible.
They were done with him a long time ago.
AP sports writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.