Initially, there was little reason to theorize about estranged Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield playing for the Panthers.
Pro Football Network reported there was “mutual disinterest” between Mayfield’s camp and Carolina after the 2018 No. 1 pick requested a trade out of Cleveland. Mayfield was upset the Browns (like 13 other teams) were courting embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson. Eventually, Watson choose the Browns, leaving Mayfield without a team.
He’s under contract in Cleveland via the fifth-year option (worth $18.9 million against the cap) but no one expects him to stick around for training camp. It would be a surprise if he participated in the offseason workout program that begins next week.
The open market has evaporated for Mayfield. He has little trade value. The Browns may have to pair him with a draft pick just for a team to take on his contract. If that doesn’t happen, then Cleveland will either trade him while agreeing to pay part of his salary or simply cut him.
Those last two scenarios could intrigue the Panthers. Or at the very least, make them reconsider bringing in Mayfield to compete with former 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold.
But would Mayfield fit within new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system? And is he a better option than 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is also available? Let’s unpack both of those questions.
What is a McAdoo offense?
The Panthers hired McAdoo in hopes he’ll reshape their passing game. Last season, Carolina ranked 31st in passing according to Football Outsiders DVOA metric. (DVOA measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent). Over his 16-year NFL coaching career, McAdoo’s system has helped manufacture efficient, high-volume passing seasons out of Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and most recently Dak Prescott.
At all three stops (Green Bay, New York and Dallas), McAdoo installed a high-tempo west-coast system predicated on shotgun throws, quick deliveries and playmaking opportunities. Let’s focus on his time in New York since that’s where he had the most influence as offensive coordinator and eventually head coach.
Equipped with Manning and a young Odell Beckham Jr., McAdoo called plays for the Giants’ offense in 2014 and 2015, leading to two explosive seasons for Beckham Jr. OBJ won Rookie of the Year in 2014, averaging a league-high 108 receiving yards per game.
“When I think about a Ben McAdoo offense, I think about quick throws out a shotgun, and a high-tempo, basketball-type offense,” The Athletic’s Diante Lee told The Observer. “One thing that he has done everywhere he’s been is improve his quarterback’s completion percentages by giving them more options underneath to throw the football, and I would imagine that that will be the same thing in Carolina.”
Sounds like DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson and Christian McCaffrey should have plenty of yard after the catch opportunities under McAdoo. This may sound familiar to Panthers fans, who endured 1.5 seasons of an inconsistent Joe Brady offense that promised similar playmaking chances. Lee said McAdoo understands protections better and will not deploy as many spread looks as Brady did. McAdoo also implements multiple tight-end formations, unlike the Panthers’ former offensive coordinator.
Lee said sometimes McAdoo’s Giants offense lacked explosiveness. It’s been four seasons since McAdoo called plays. He spent last year as a senior offensive consultant for Dallas, where he was exposed to a more diverse system. Perhaps McAdoo added to his playbook learning from Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Now that we’ve defined the system let’s decide whether Mayfield would fit.
Would Baker Mayfield fit with Panthers?
During Mayfield’s rookie season, the Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson and named then running backs coach Freddie Kitchens interim head coach and play-caller. Mayfield responded by setting the rookie passing touchdown record (27, which was broken two years later by Justin Herbert’s 31). He and Kitchens (aided by a soft defensive schedule) blended nicely together at first.
Playing in Kitchens’ system is an example of what Mayfield would look like under McAdoo.
Mayfield regressed in 2021 largely because he played with a torn labrum which he suffered in Week 2 against the Texans. But there were also major disagreements about the offense between Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Under McAdoo, Mayfield would play in a system similar to what Kitchens ran. He’d be in shotgun more often, play uptempo and be allowed more freedom to pick his matchups either outside the numbers or underneath. Let’s review some plays of Mayfield’s from 2019 when Kitchens was the head coach.
The above play comes from Week 4 of the 2019 season. The Browns beat the Ravens in Baltimore 40-25, improving to 2-2. Mayfield completed 20 of 40 passes for 342 yards and a touchdown.
On this play, the Browns faced a third-and-long. Baltimore rushed four and dropped seven defenders into a Cover 4 spot-drop look. Mayfield did an excellent job stepping up in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield.
After a pump fake, he threads a bullet to Odell Beckham Jr. and picked up the first down. This is an example of Mayfield working to his second read while feeding an outside receiver on a deep route concept.
This next play highlights a quick-timing throw which Mayfield excelled at.
On second-and-10, the Ravens again dropped seven and played quarters defense (Cover 4). By making a pre-snap read, Mayfield identified zone coverage because only one defender aligned over tight end Ricky Seal-Jones and slot receiver Jarvis Landry.
At the snap, Mayfield immediately locked in on Landry. He made the decision pre-snap Landry was his primary target. Once Landry bends around a dropping linebacker, Mayfield resets and hits him for an eventual 65-yard gain.
This last play showcased quality play design and a great pre-snap read from Mayfield. The Browns faced thrid-and-3 in the red zone. Again in shotgun, Cleveland ran a mesh concept underneath, tagged with two outside verticals and a quick release wheel route from the running back.
Beckham and Seals-Jones cross on short under routes, which opened up Seals-Jones for an easy score.
Mayfield or Garoppolo?
After all that, you’d think Mayfield would be a perfect fit in Carolina, right? Not quite.
“Jimmy G is a better option,” a former NFL general manager told The Observer. “He is a winner and his experience is so much greater. Baker (Mayfield) is better than Sam Darnold but I’d rather get a QB in the draft.”
“I have never at any point seen anything from Baker Mayfield to make me believe that currently or in the future that he’d be a better quarterback than Jimmy Garoppolo,” Lee said. In terms of his arm talent, his decision making, his ability to handle pressure, I think, in almost every category or every checkbox that you were trying to evaluate these quarterbacks by, I think Jimmy’s got Baker beat.”
If it’s between Mayfield or Garoppolo then those around the NFL don’t think it’s much of a debate. Garoppolo is still viewed as a starter while Mayfield is trending toward being a backup, regardless of what system he lands in.
Don’t expect the Panthers to add Mayfield. Garoppolo is a much better option.