In trading Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns were prioritizing cap savings, trying to avoid paying as much as the $18.8 million guaranteed salary he was owed in 2022. Meanwhile, many fans and media were focused on the fact that Mayfield going to the Carolina Panthers would likely mean the Browns would open the season facing off against Mayfield, giving an otherwise anonymous matchup a great storyline.
Without Mayfield, the Panthers were a team with an intriguing amount of talent across the board. Young and fast on defense, a number of viable threats on offense and some questions along the offensive line. Inconsistency and injuries at the quarterback position combined with the limited availability of Christian McCaffrey limited what the offense was able to achieve.
Mayfield gives them a clear upgrade at quarterback. Presumably, with a few weeks to digest the playbook, Mayfield should be able to arrive at training camp ready to justify the trade. If all goes according to plan, Mayfield is going to be the quarterback leading the Panthers when they host the Browns.
Presuming Deshaun Watson is suspended and the Browns follow through with the plan of having Jacoby Brissett operate as his replacement, the Panthers will have the superior quarterback in the matchup. The Panthers have a legitimate star in D.J. Moore leading their receivers and a game-breaking weapon in McCaffrey out of the backfield.
If Mayfield simply provides a stabilizing force, avoiding turnovers and allows those playmakers to carry the offense, they can cause problems for defenses, including against a defense with as much talent as the Browns. That early in the season, that's likely the best case scenario for Mayfield.
The good news for the Browns is they still have one of the most proficient running games in the league, which could limit the contributions they need from Brissett and the passing game. If they are able to limit the Panthers running game, they have shown the capability to take over the game with their defense.
Heading into the 2022 season, the first month of the season, including games against the Panthers, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Atlanta Falcons was viewed as an opportunity to get off to a good start despite a potential suspension to their star quarterback. This was also viewed as an opportunity for the Browns to break an ugly streak of season-opening losses.
The Browns could still go on the road and defeat the Panthers, but the acquisition of Mayfield increases the difficulty. On top of everything else, the Browns will have all of the pressure on them to win this game. It remains to be seen if they are up to it.