In a move most everyone saw coming from the moment he became a Panther, Baker Mayfield has been named Carolina's starting quarterback to open the 2022 season.
Head coach Matt Rhule announced his decision Monday.
"When we started this process, we were looking at three things," Rhule said, via the team's website. "No. 1, mastery of the offense, No. 2, situational football excellence, and No. 3, moving the ball and getting guys involved. That's been our focus all along.
"Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time."
Cleveland traded Mayfield to Carolina in early July in exchange for a 2024 conditional fifth-round draft pick, officially ending his time with the Browns and giving the 27-year-old an opportunity to prove he could still be a viable starter in the NFL. Mayfield needed only to beat out Sam Darnold -- a 2021 acquisition who fell short of expectations in his first year in Charlotte -- for the starting job with the Panthers.
"Obviously, Sam and I knew this day was gonna eventually come," Mayfield said. "But, we weren't counting down the days, we didn't know when it was gonna happen or anything like that. Just this morning, I was made aware I was going to be starting. Saw Sam shortly after and he made it very clear that anything I needed in support or in terms of that aspect, he was gonna be there. That just shows what kind of team guy he is. Honestly, just an unfortunate circumstance that we're both here in the same year, fighting for a job, but that's the kind of guy he is.
"I truly, truly appreciate that and he's a great guy."
Darnold reacted to Rhule's decision with class and grace.
"My mindset is it is what it is," Darnold told reporters on Monday. "And for me, right now, I'm going to do everything I can to support Baker and get him ready to play a game."
Mayfield had less than a month to learn Carolina's offense, yet he apparently overcame those challenges to earn the position. He saw brief preseason action in Week 1, completing 4 of 7 passes for 45 yards before being replaced by Darnold. Evidently, his performance in that short stint and during all of training camp was enough to convince Rhule to proceed with Mayfield as his top quarterback. Darnold will serve as Mayfield's backup, per Rhule.
"All along, we've felt like we need to have a really strong quarterback room, and have every quarterback ready to play," Rhule said. "The reality of this league is most teams will play multiple quarterbacks. Sam has worked incredibly hard, played really well for us during training camp, and will be ready to go if and when it's needed."
Mayfield will see more work when he takes the field as Carolina's starting quarterback in its third preseason game versus Buffalo, Rhule said. From there, Mayfield will prepare to take over as QB1 with his new team in what is a crucial season for his future in the NFL.
Carolina opens the 2022 season against Mayfield's former team, the Browns, in Charlotte. We can guarantee plenty of eyes will be on Bank of America Stadium for the 1 p.m. ET kickoff on Sept. 11.
"Obviously, there's a lot of attachment there," Mayfield said of playing the Browns. "I'm not gonna sit here and be a robot and say that it doesn't mean anything. It will. But right now all that matters is me continuing to improve until this regular season starts."
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