Earlier today, Baker Mayfield was traded by the Cleveland Browns to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. The selection becomes a fourth-rounder if Mayfield takes 70 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps.
Per Mike Garafolo, the Browns agreed to pay $10.5 million of Mayfield’s 2022 salary, saving about $8 million in cap space. The Panthers will pay approximately $5 million, while Mayfield agreed to forego $3.5 million of his base salary in order to make the financials work.
Now that the business angle of the deal is settled, buckle up: incredibly, the Browns and Panthers kick off the season against each other in Week 1.
Meanwhile, we’ll break down the deal from a fantasy football angle. Little to nothing changes in terms of the fantasy fortunes of Cleveland Browns players; the former Heisman Trophy winner was not expected to play a down for them after an acrimonious split stemming from the acquisition of Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans. We therefore focus our attention on the fantasy implications for members of the Carolina Panthers.
What to Expect: Quarterbacks
The Panthers have stated that Mayfield, the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, immediately steps into a competition with incumbent starter Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Mayfield should win the job outright and never look back. However, the Panthers were wise to pick up the fifth-year option on Darnold. After all, someone needs to hold the clipboard until 2023 third-round pick Matt Corral is ready to do so.
Mayfield’s value obviously enjoys the biggest lift of this group. He slots in as a low-end QB2 and should be immediately added in superflex and 2 QB leagues. Darnold belongs on waivers in redraft leagues of all sizes; he and Corral should only be rostered in deep dynasty superflex leagues. Darnold is on a fast track to being a career NFL backup from here on out. Corral is more likely to earn a shot to start if the Mayfield experiment doesn’t pan out this season.
What to Expect: Running Backs
After four years, it’s fair to call Mayfield (92 TDs, 56 INTs, 61.6%, 7.3 YPA ) a significant upgrade over Darnold (54 TDs, 52 INTs, 59.8%, 6.5 YPA). The resulting proverbial rising tide should lift a lot of boats in the Carolina offense, and Christian McCaffrey is no exception. Finally healthy after two injury-riddled seasons, McCaffrey leapfrogs Jonathan Taylor to become the overall RB1 on my board.
McCaffrey’s contributions in the passing game should see a small uptick, and his ground efficiency stands to improve, as well. Give ever-so-slight bumps to D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, who’ll spell McCaffrey from time to time, but neither running back should be rostered in leagues of traditional size.
What to Expect: Wide Receivers
Two months ago, Robby Anderson took to Twitter to share his feelings about working with Baker Mayfield. Those Tweets make for a very awkward read today:
— The Riot Report (@RRiotReport) April 15, 2022
Today, Anderson hopped on Twitter again. This time, he accused the media and others of forming a “narrative” in a brief statement featuring an unconvincing mix of denial and amnesia:
Robby Anderson: “stop trying to paint that narrative”
Also Robby Anderson: literally painted the narrative himself. https://t.co/Ly80cY3wud
— T (@prattmane) July 6, 2022
Anderson, who teased the idea of retirement last month, is the only player in the wide receiver room whose value takes a slight hit from the Mayfield trade. His role could be easily filled by Terrace Marshall, a second-year LSU product who generated some positive buzz by showing significant growth during OTAs.
However, the two players who stand to gain the most from Mayfield’s addition are Rashard Higgins and D.J. Moore. Most of Higgins’ 137 career receptions came from the right hand of Mayfield, so it would stand to reason that he’s a front-runner to take the field in three wide receiver sets. Meanwhile, Moore is no longer someone I’m avoiding at ADP, thanks to the Mayfield trade. Moore, a target hog who tallied over 1,200 total yards in each of his last three seasons, should finish in the WR 12-15 range, sufficient production to justify a pick in the early rounds.
What to Expect: Tight Ends
Last, and most definitely least, are the Panthers’ tight ends. During his rookie campaign in 2021, Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble siphoned targets from Ian Thomas by hauling in 20 of 35 targets for 180 yards and a touchdown. Thomas, who notched 36 receptions during his rookie season four years ago, hasn’t caught more than 20 passes in a season since. If we had to pick one, we’d go with Tremble, but neither player figures to be a major part of the Carolina offense in 2022. The Mayfield trade changes nothing here: fantasy managers are better off passing on Panthers tight ends altogether.