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NFL - US Sports: Why Mayfield swapped Browns for Panthers

After lengthy talks, Baker Mayfield is heading to Carolina and into a quarterback competition with fellow 2018 draft-pick Sam Darnold, but why is he now a Panther?

The Cleveland Browns invested time and money in Mayfield, but eventually ran out of patience and traded for Deshaun Watson.

So where did it all go wrong for the former number one overall draft choice and how bright could his future be with the Panthers?

The Browns were big Baker-believers

Four years is a long time in football and that's how long it took for things to get frosty in Cleveland.

Holding the No.1 pick in the quarterback-laden 2018 draft, the Browns were in an envious position as they sought to turn a losing franchise around.

USC's Darnold was emerging as the narrow consensus to be the best QB prospect, just ahead of Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Mayfield. But while the other three were all 6ft 3in or taller and of a prototype build, Mayfield was a few inches shorter and between 10-20 lbs lighter than his rivals.

But the Browns were sold on the cocky and charismatic Oklahoma star, who won the Heisman Trophy on the back of leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff.

They liked his leadership potential and proven ability to thrive under pressure, plus - with an adjusted completion rate of over 60 per cent on deep passes in college - there were certainly no doubts over his arm.

Injuries and Beckham break-up take toll

Mayfield couldn't have had a better start in the NFL as led the Browns to a comeback victory over Darnold's New York Jets in Week 3.

And, although there were some typical rookie mistakes - such as two fumbles in a close loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, he soon settled down as the Browns finished with a much-improved 7-8-1 record in 2018.

He finished that season with 3,725 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, surpassing the previous-best rookie mark set by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.

The Browns remained patient with him throughout the 2019 season, but fired the head coach for the second consecutive year.

Initially, his relationship with new HC Kevin Stefanski seemed great. Mayfield led the Browns to an 11-5 record in his third year and won a playoff game - the team's first since 1994 - but things soured during an injury-hit 2021 campaign.

Mayfield suffered a torn labrum to his left shoulder in a Week 2 win over the Houston Texans and, although he battled on through the injury, was nowhere near as effective afterward.

Then came the bizarre break-up with Odell Beckham Jr in which the number one Browns receiver's father posted footage on social media that appeared to suggest Mayfield was deliberately throwing in the opposite direction to his son.

Mayfield's popularity in the locker room seemed to take a hit from that, as did his confidence, and reports have emerged since his trade that claim there was also a breakdown of trust between the quarterback and his coach.

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Options thinned out as QB trades took off

All of a sudden he looked to be on shaky ground in Ohio and the constant talk of a contract extension from both the player and Browns' front office stopped just as quickly.

Matters really took a dramatic turn when the team's pursuit of Watson became public knowledge and, once the former Texans starter had been signed, the writing was on the wall for Mayfield.

But by then, his options for a quick end to a potentially very messy situation had thinned out dramatically as several QB-needy teams had already made their moves.

Some, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, would have taken him in a heartbeat if he'd been cut in Cleveland, but the Browns were never going to do that.

Only the Panthers seemed serious about taking on a significant portion of his fully-guaranteed salary of $18.9million until talks stalled before the draft - when Carolina chose to draft promising rookie QB Matt Corral in the third round.

However, neither side really left the negotiating table, and once Mayfield decided to grease the wheels of the deal by turning some guaranteed money into incentive-based pay, he was headed to Charlotte for the next chapter of his career.

Carolina are covering all bases

The Panthers now have three young QBs on their roster - all of whom could lay claim to being the starter next year.

Darnold is probably near the back of the queue having fumbled his opportunity last season, while Corral lacks any NFL experience and will surely spend his rookie season on the sidelines.

Mayfield must learn a new offensive system and brew some chemistry with the Panthers players in order to make the most of this fresh chance.

Firstly, he needs to show up to pre-season training camp in shape and in the mood to battle as there may be no third chances for him if this switch goes south.

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