Baker Mayfield was supposed to be the latest solution to the Carolina Panthers‘ quarterback problems, but his turn under center won’t even last a full season. The Panthers will release Mayfield today, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, and because the trade deadline has passed, Mayfield will hit the waiver wire. Will any team claim the former No. 1 overall pick, and where could he go to rehabilitate his career?
Baker Mayfield’s Career at Crossroads Following Panthers Release
Carolina acquired Mayfield from the Browns this offseason with the thought he could rebound to his 2020 level of play. That season, Mayfield finished 10th in QBR and led the Browns to 11 wins and a postseason appearance.
Instead, Mayfield completely devolved with the Panthers. Among 34 qualifying quarterbacks, he ranks 33rd in QBR, ahead of only Kenny Pickett. He’s dead last in EPA + CPOE composite, and Carolina has decided Sam Darnold and PJ Walker represent better options moving forward.
Mayfield no longer looks like a viable starter, but his pedigree and track record should allow him to land a backup job for the rest of this season and into 2023. He has roughly $1.42 remaining on his contract, so teams may not be willing to claim him and absorb that salary, given that they could simply sign him as a free agent for the league minimum.
Whether it’s through waivers or via a traditional signing, Mayfield will likely be on a roster to end the year. Which clubs make the most sense as potential landing spots?
San Francisco 49ers
After losing Jimmy Garoppolo to a season-ending foot injury on Sunday, the 49ers stand out as the most obvious destination for Mayfield. San Francisco will start rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy going forward, while they signed journeyman Josh Johnson off the Broncos’ practice squad to serve as Purdy’s backup.
The 49ers are nearly guaranteed a playoff spot, and while Purdy played well after taking over for Garoppolo in Week 13, San Francisco won’t be facing Miami’s sieve of a defense every week. The Buccaneers and Commanders’ excellent defenses remain on the Niners’ regular-season schedule, and opponents will get even tougher in the postseason.
Mayfield experienced success in Kevin Stefanski’s play-action-centric scheme, and the 49ers’ offense shares a lot of traits with the Browns’ designs. If Mayfield were called into action in San Francisco, he’d benefit from playing with the best set of weapons he’s ever had. But he’d need to figure out how to get the ball to Christian McCaffrey, something he didn’t do frequently enough when the two were Panthers teammates.
Unlike the 49ers, the Ravens didn’t lose their quarterback for the rest of the year. However, Lamar Jackson could miss some time after suffering what is believed to be a knee sprain against the Broncos.
Tyler Huntley, who made four starts in relief of Jackson in 2021, will take over under center, and he offers a decent facsimile of Jackson’s playstyle. However, Baltimore doesn’t have a third quarterback on its active roster. Rookie undrafted free agent Anthony Brown is on their practice squad, but he’s never taken an NFL snap.
Depending on how long Jackson is sidelined, the Ravens may want to find another mobile quarterback to play behind Huntley. Mayfield is decidedly not mobile, so Baltimore might prefer to go in a different direction. But if they’re looking for a backup with NFL experience, Mayfield is the best option available at the moment.
The Titans were able to compete when Ryan Tannehill missed two games earlier this year, but that wasn’t due to rookie quarterback Malik Willis’ efforts. Willis went 1-1 in his two starts but attempted just 26 total passes (and completed only 11 of those attempts).
If Tannehill were to go down again, especially as the playoffs approach, Mike Vrabel might feel more comfortable with a traditional dropback quarterback like Mayfield on the roster. While Tennessee’s offensive line is a problem, Mayfield could at least rely on a solid run game led by Derrick Henry.
In the past, Mayfield’s personality might have seemed at odds with the Titans’ team-first culture. But he seems to have relaxed his public persona in Carolina — even as he lost his starting job — to the point where he’d be a reasonable fit in Tennessee.