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Coincidence or Collusion? Panthers Release Mayfield Day After Garoppolo Injury

Baker Mayfield Carolina

The Carolina Panthers waived Baker Mayfield on Monday after the quarterback requested his release.

“He’s still a good football player,” interim head coach Steve Wilks told reporters on Monday. “Just like coaches, just like players sometimes, they just need a change.”

Where that change takes place could be determined in the next 24 hours. The deadline for claiming Mayfield off waivers is 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. If he goes unclaimed by the other 31 teams, he will become an unrestricted free agent.

Mayfield’s release comes less than 24 hours after a potential starting quarterback job became available in San Francisco. The 49ers, for the moment, are going with 2022 seventh-round pick Brock Purdy, after Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending injury on Sunday.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said he doesn’t foresee the Niners trying to sign Mayfield, at least not at the time.

“We look into everything, but that would surprise me right now,” Shanahan told reporters on Monday. “We’ve got to discuss more this afternoon and stuff. I’ve always been a fan of his, but I feel really good about our players. We’ll look into everything, but I feel pretty good with where we’re at right now.”

The 49ers are 24th in the waiver order, and they — or any team that claims him — would have to assume the remaining $1,349,444 million guaranteed on his contract. They have more than $6 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap.

Eric Mangini, analyst for The 33rd Team, found the timing of Garoppolo’s injury and Mayfield’s release more than coincidental.

“I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist here, but it is interesting,” Mangini said. “He asked for a release and (got) a release right after a major injury. If he goes to San Francisco, there’s a little hint of collusion there in my mind because it’s strange how it happened so quickly after a major injury. …

“I’m not trying to start the grassy knoll scenario here. I’m just saying it does seem very interesting that they have a major injury and suddenly he (asks) for the release and he’s hitting the market.”

In the first five weeks of the season, Mayfield led the Panthers to a 1-4 record. It was at that point the Panthers fired coach Matt Rhule and installed Wilks as the interim head coach. Under Wilks, Mayfield started just one game — a Week 11 loss to the Ravens in which he threw his fifth and sixth interceptions of the season.

Sam Darnold is expected to start for Carolina this coming Sunday in Seattle. Darnold and PJ Walker were the only other quarterbacks on the roster and it was clear Mayfield was no longer part of the starting mix.

“This is a tough business,” Wilks said. “Sitting in this seat, it was a tough decision on my part, but something I felt like was the best move for the team moving forward.

Mayfield flamed out with the Cleveland Browns after they selected him No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Cleveland traded him to the Panthers this past offseason for a conditional 2024 draft pick, which will be a fifth-round selection now that Mayfield won’t play 70% of Carolina’s snaps.

Mayfield came into the 2022 season as the Panthers’ presumptive starter, though a combination of poor injury luck and lackluster performance led the team to turn to both Walker and Darnold.

WATCH: Loss of Garoppolo ‘Huge’ for 49ers

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