The quarterback competition that never really felt like a competition won’t be a competition for much longer.
The Panthers traded for Mayfield after the conclusion of the offseason program. The mere fact that the deal was made created the impression that the Panthers wanted Mayfield to play over Sam Darnold. But when former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who currently works for the team as a broadcaster, declared that Darnold has the upper hand in the competition, some started to wonder whether the Panthers simply added Mayfield as a buy-low proposition, getting him for a fifth-round pick and paying only $5 million of his salary. (The Browns are paying $10.5 million.)
Then, once camp opened, the coaching staff divided first-team reps, giving Darnold a seemingly fair shot to win the job while also giving Mayfield fewer chances to get comfortable in a new team with a new offense. Despite not getting the full bulk of the reps, Mayfield has persuaded the coaching staff — and, presumably, the locker room — that he’s the better option, at least when the Browns come to town for Week One.
Even if Mayfield starts every game, Darnold actually will make more money this year. He has a fifth-year option salary of $18.8 million, along with the 17th-game sweetener of $1.1 million. Mayfield, who originally had the same fifth-year salary, agreed to take a pay cut in excess of $3 million. While he can earn it back through incentives, he needs to have a very special year (more than $1 million is tied to getting to the Super Bowl and winning it), the 17th game check is gone for good.
Of course, Mayfield isn’t thinking about about not making nearly $20 million in 2022. He’s thinking about making a lot more in 2023 and beyond. To get there, he needs to play. And he apparently will, at least when the season begins.
After that, it’s up to him. He’ll need to be effective. He’ll also need to stay healthy. His this-is-my-job attitude in Cleveland allowed him to play with a bad non-throwing shoulder when he clearly shouldn’t have been on the field. In Carolina, he’ll likely receive no such deference, especially with the coaching staff thinking a lot more about 2023 and beyond, too.