In spite of Baker Mayfield’s insistence that this is not a “redemption year,” he will make his first career start at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday against the team that passed him up. The Cleveland Browns, who passed on the top overall choice in the 2018 draft after trading for Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans, were the opponents of the Panthers’ Sept. 11 season opener.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of attachment there,” Mayfield said of the Browns. “I’m not going to sit here and be a robot and say it doesn’t mean anything. It will.” It would have been Mayfield and the Browns versus Darnold and the Panthers if the Browns and Panthers had met last season.
Instead, Brissett and the Browns will face Mayfield and the Panthers this time, with Darnold watching from the stands and Watson, whose return to the team isn’t allowed until November 28, watching from home.
Matt Rhule, the head coach, made his choice public on Monday. “When we started this process, we were looking at three things,” After naming Mayfield the team’s starter, Panthers coach Matt Rhule made the following statement.
“Number one, mastery of the offense, number two, situational football excellence, and number three, moving the ball and getting guys involved. That’s been our focus all along. Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time.”
If Mayfield underperforms, his rise to the top of the Carolina Panthers’ depth chart may not last long. Ownership will probably want to see some results after two unsuccessful seasons, and Rhule is in his third year as the team’s head coach. After this season, Mayfield will be an unrestricted free agent, so he has a lot riding on his ability to perform well and establish himself as an NFL franchise quarterback.
When the Browns chose Mayfield at No. 1, they believed they were getting that, and when he was healthy enough to do it, the 27-year-old largely lived up to those hopes. However, Cleveland believed they could perform better, which is why they hired Watson. Mayfield’s first opportunity to prove the Browns were wrong will come in Week 1. It might also be his last, depending on how he performs.