Trade to Carolina Panthers was best thing for Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns: Takeaways

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What happened on Wednesday when the Browns traded former No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional 2024 draft pick wasn't a surprise.

At least, it wasn't a surprise to anyone who had followed the relationship between the team and their now-former quarterback in the past several months.

From the moment the Browns sat down with Deshaun Watson about a potential trade in March, a potential trade sending Mayfield somewhere else was inevitable. It was just a matter of filling in the when and where.

The latter always seemed to be obvious: Carolina. The Panthers have a coach in Matt Rhule who's squarely on the hot seat, and a quarterback in Sam Darnold who's in the final year of his deal and was clearly not seen as the long-term answer.

The former was always a matter of debate, in part because of the Browns' lack of leverage. The Panthers exploited that around the draft in April, when they elected to pick Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round instead of execute a trade for Mayfield.

Jan 9, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field with the team before the game between the Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field with the team before the game between the Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The possibility of the Seattle Seahawks as a trade destination came up over the course of the past few months. However, sources familiar with the discussions told the Beacon Journal there was never any indication of that actually happening.

A little more than two months after the draft, the Browns and Panthers finally came together to consummate the deal. Here are some thoughts on the deal that made Mayfield just the third quarterback taken No. 1 overall to last four years or less with the team which selected him.

It was time for Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns to go their separate ways

A year ago, this moment would've been unthinkable. Ah, July 2021 … such a different time.

Back then, the question was about when the Browns and Mayfield would enter into a long-term deal after he quarterbacked the team to an 11-5 regular season, its first playoff berth since 2002 and its first playoff win since 1995. However, all of that changed on one play in a Week 2 win over the Houston Texans, when Mayfield suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.

That led to a season-long debate over Mayfield's performance. It led to questions about the play-calling, given his injury, particularly in late-season games at Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

The long-term extension talk, which a source familiar with the situation said never substantially materialized between the two parties before the 2021 season, never was re-established. Instead, a frost settled in between the team and the quarterback, a frost that turned even colder once it became clear the Browns were looking at other options, specifically Watson.

"I think it's been pretty obvious the mutual decision on both sides is to move on," Mayfield told reporters at his youth camp in Norman, Okla., on June 28. "I'm thankful for my four years in Cleveland. A lot of ups and downs and a ton of learning experiences I'll forever keep with me. I have teammates and friends and relationships I'll have with me for a lifetime. … The support staff in Cleveland, the people of Cleveland. It's a great sports town. I'm thankful for it. There's no resentment toward the city of Cleveland, by any means."

Mayfield gets to play out his fifth-year option with a new team that could ultimately provide a new beginning. The Browns get their own new beginning.

Regular-season opener on Sept. 11 got much more interesting

Yes Captain Obvious, the Browns and Panthers will open the regular season against each other on Sept. 11 in Charlotte. And yep, you better believe that game is going to generate a whole lot of attention beyond just the two fan bases.

Sure, there's a world where it could be Darnold starting for the Panthers. That said, it's hard to imagine the Panthers making this deal without firmly believing Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, would be able to unseat the player who was taken by the New York Jets two picks later.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, left, talks with Jets quarterback Sam Darnold before their teams met during their rookie seasons, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, left, talks with Jets quarterback Sam Darnold before their teams met during their rookie seasons, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The bigger mystery will be who the Browns' starting quarterback will be that day. Or, it'll be a mystery exactly as long as it takes for Watson to learn his punishment from disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson for potential violations of the NFL personal conduct policy due to the original 24 lawsuits – all but four of which were settled last month – for allegations of sexual misconduct while procuring massages.

Browns can turn entire focus to Deshaun Watson situation

The reality has been that the Browns have dealt with dueling quarterback quandaries since the March 18 trade which brought Watson to Cleveland. They had the questions about Watson's availability depending on the length of any potential suspension from the league, and also questions about Mayfield's future.

Now, the questions about Mayfield's future are settled. The questions about Watson remain very real.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) greets Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) following a game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) greets Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) following a game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Watson's hearing before Robinson ended after three days last week. However, her final decision isn't expected until sometime later this month, with the potential for an appeal coming after it's released.

Determining if there's more moves to be made to help out a quarterback room that would include only Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs during any Watson suspension is likely the next order of business. And no, the irony of that statement isn't lost considering what occurred on Wednesday.

Contact Chris at ceasterling@thebeaconjournal.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns, Baker Mayfield get what's best in trade with Panthers