Front Office Commentary

Why Baker Mayfield is at an Immediate Disadvantage in Carolina

Why Baker Mayfield is at an Immediate Disadvantage in Carolina

Around this time of year, there will always be relatively late roster-changing acquisitions. The most recent impactful move of this type is the Panthers’ trade for former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. A quarterback switching teams this late into the offseason faces many overlooked obstacles. Mayfield has missed offseason opportunities to improve with his new team, including three sessions of OTAs between late March and early June and Mandatory Minicamp in mid-June. 

Those offseason programs are invaluable to improving and building a winning culture among teammates and with the coaching staff. Building chemistry often occurs off the field, and quarterbacks who miss those early opportunities are disadvantaged. Moreover, the Panthers’ QB room is ambiguous entering the 2022 NFL Season. Incumbent starter Sam Darnold has had those opportunities with teammates, and so has former top-100 pick and Ole Miss Rebel Matt Corral. Either way, Mayfield — and Jimmy Garoppolo potentially — have inevitable processes that come to pass.

When a player shifts teams, their adjustment is multi-faceted. Players must relocate to their new team’s area, learn a new system, and assimilate into a new culture with new teammates and coaching staff. For a quarterback, developing chemistry with the receivers, the coach, the offensive line, and the other important members of the team takes considerable time. It tends to be the case that newly acquired quarterbacks ramp up toward the end of the season once they have squared away the issues stemming from moving. Nonetheless, the circumstances that quarterbacks face when they join a new team mere weeks from training camp, or even during training camp and beyond, limit their chance of being productive.

Looking at the big picture for the Panthers and Mayfield, they must face returning quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jameis Winston accompanied by strong defenses in their division. Brady has spent the past two seasons with the same core of key offensive players, and that chemistry shows on the field and is an additional advantage that the Panthers are unlikely to have in 2022. It does not bode well when even the Falcons’ Marcus Mariota has had the aforementioned opportunities to play with his teammates and adjust on a looser schedule.

For those reasons, it may have actually been in Mayfield’s best interest to have stayed in Cleveland in a marriage of convenience. Mayfield could’ve played in a similar setting and provided quality quarterbacking for the Browns during Deshaun Watson’s near-certain suspension, which could’ve buoyed his value in the 2023 offseason after playing out his fifth-year option.

If Mayfield is to perform well in Carolina, Christian McCaffrey must remain healthy for this season. The Panthers’ offense has rarely performed well in his absence, averaging 3.4 fewer points per game when he does not suit up. McCaffrey also provides a safety-blanket passing option for Mayfield that should not require as much acclimation as other nuanced passing options.

In my experience, however, quarterbacks can be productive and successful in the season following their post-June 1st acquisition. Vinny Testaverde won 12 out of 13 games for the New York Jets in 1998 after acquiring him post-June 1st. Arguably, that was an MVP-level performance from Testaverde. The team also achieved postseason success, making it to the AFC Championship Game. Later, the Jets acquired Brett Favre post-June 1st in the 2008 offseason, and Favre made his 10th Pro Bowl that season. We’ve already discussed the similarities Mayfield has to Testaverde, but he and Favre may be exceptions in this case. Jay Cutler, on the other hand, did not perform as well under the same circumstances.

Overall, the acclimation process for players joining teams at this stage of the game acutely hinders their ability to improve alongside their teammates before the season begins, which is crucial for success. Much of that progress halts when there is a change at quarterback because of the complications it entails. Repetition and continuity strengthen the relationship between players, elevate trust in the system, and simultaneously improve individual cogs to a bigger machine. That is the key to acclimating quarterbacks post-June 1st.