Baker Mayfield trade reaction, NFL franchise tag deadline talk and more

On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns finally traded Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers. What it means now, and more importantly, going forward.

Baker Mayfield is now a Carolina Panther. And the Cleveland Browns did everything but slap a bow on him.

Texting with one high-ranking source in an NFL front office, Cleveland’s result was described as “bad asset management.” It’s impossible to argue the notion. The Browns took a 27-year-old quarterback and essentially got nothing for a player who, last offseason, was being debated as an extension candidate for $35-40 million per year.

While Mayfield was disappointing in 2021, he also played hurt from Week 2 on, sustaining a torn labrum against the Houston Texans. His stats — 3,010 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions — were ugly, but the season prior saw the Browns win their first playoff game since the Clinton Administration.

Regardless, Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry wanted to move on. The Browns became so desperate in this regard, they aggressively pursued quarterback Deshaun Watson once the 10 criminal complaints against him were dismissed by two Texas grand juries.

Once Cleveland’s interest in Watson became public, Mayfield demanded out, and Berry’s leverage was gone. Additionally, the NFL had already seen a slew of quarterback trades with the Denver Broncos giving up multiple first- and second-round picks for Russell Wilson, and the Washington Commanders acquiring Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round choice.

In short, the Browns knew it was either land Watson or start over, which is why Watson got a fully-guaranteed, $230 million deal. Of course, the worst moves are born from panic, and Cleveland was in one. Full blown.

As for Carolina, trading for Mayfield on a reduced salary was an easy move to make. It traded a 2024 fifth-round conditional pick to the Cleveland Browns (it becomes a fourth-rounder if Mayfield plays 70 percent of the snaps this season) and will pay $4.85 million in salary for Mayfield. Cleveland retains $10.5 million.

In short, the Panthers upgrade from Sam Darnold to Mayfield, giving head coach Matt Rhule a chance to succeed in his third year.

Carolina also gets the benefit of seeing Mayfield for a year without any commitment beyond 17 games. The Panthers will see how Mayfield handles business in the building, and whether he gels with the coaching staff.

For Mayfield, he’s joining a lesser roster than what he had in Cleveland — especially up front — but there’s real talent in Carolina. The Panthers have a pair of receivers in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, with Moore notching 93 catches, 1,157 yards and four touchdowns.

The big question for Carolina’s offense is running back Christian McCaffrey’s health.

Over the past two seasons, McCaffrey has played a combined 10 games after having a historic 2019 campaign, earning Offensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-Pro honors, amassing 1,387 rushing yards, 1,005 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns.

If Mayfield struggles, Carolina can let him walk and potentially receive a compensatory pick. However, if Mayfield has a terrific year, the Panthers could franchise tag him, albeit while they face a rough cap situation in 2023.

Ultimately, one team bungled its asset and lost him for nothing, while another upgrades at the sport’s paramount position.

A win for the Panthers, a loss for the Browns.

And wouldn’t Mayfield love that result repeated come Week 1.

Power rankings

Top 10 left-handed quarterbacks of all-time

1. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers (HOF, 7x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 2x MVP)
2. Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders (HOF, 4x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, MVP)
3. Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati Bengals (4x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, MVP)
4. Mark Brunell, Jacksonville Jaguars (3x Pro Bowl, 32,072 passing yards)
5. Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons (4x Pro Bowl, 28,574 total yards)
6. Frankie Albert, San Francisco 49ers (1x Pro Bowl, 115 passing TDs)
7. Jim Zorn, Seattle Seahawks (21,115 passing yards)
8. Scott Mitchell, Detroit Lions (15,692 passing yards)
9. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins (4,467 passing yards)
10. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos (2,422 passing yards)


“Coach Hackett comes into the meetings with energy, with juice. And with Russ — the complete guy he is, the complete player he is — you see it every day he comes into the building. He’s a perfect example of what you should be doing. It’s been fun to have those two guys come in and change everything and, hopefully, it finally gets us over the hump that we have been unable to get over the last few years.”

– Denver Broncos edge rusher Bradley Chubb on first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett

Hackett might be under the most pressure of any new head coach. The Broncos acquired Russell Wilson this offseason, putting the burden of winning on Hackett immediately. Also, the Broncos are in the league’s best division, ratcheting up the stakes even further. That said, Hackett also has an opportunity to win big, something most newcomers don’t have with bad teams.


Random stat

If you only included former San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice’s statistics from age 30 and older, he would still rank 13th in both receiving yards and receptions, and eighth in receiving touchdowns.

Info learned this week

1. Franchise tag deadline looms over quartet of stars

Time to make a move.

For the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals, they have until July 15 to sign their franchise-tagged players to long-term deals, or face the strong possibility of them testing unrestricted free agency in 2023.

Here are the four names to watch:

  • Daton Schultz – TE – Dallas Cowboys
  • Jessie Bates – S – Cincinnati Bengals
  • Mike Gesicki – TE – Miami Dolphins
  • Orlando Brown – LT – Kansas City Chiefs

Of all the potential deals, Brown’s would be the biggest, possibly stretching into nine figures. Yet the Chiefs, who traded a first-round pick in a mega-deal last April, are under pressure. Brown is 26 years old, has made three consecutive Pro Bowls, and protects Patrick Mahomes’ blindside.

If there’s ever a player Kansas City is essentially forced to pay, it’s Brown. However, the Chiefs have proven they won’t be cornered, showcasing that mettle with their trade involving Tyreek Hill earlier this offseason. A fascinating chess match nearing its conclusion.

In Cincinnati, Bates’ situation is as much message than anything else. The Bengals have long been seen as cheap, and although that’s changed over the past two years, Bates is a good litmus test to determine by how much.

The Bengals are coming off a Super Bowl appearance. In the postseason, it was the defense leading the way, and Bates is arguably the second-best player on the unit behind edge rusher Trey Hendrickson. General manager Duke Tobin can show the team’s willingness to pay homegrown talent based on performance by signing Bates long-term, possibly on a pact similar to what Marcus Williams got with the Baltimore Ravens (five years, $70 minion, $37M guaranteed).

As for the tight ends, it makes sense to expect both to play out the tag. Schultz and Gesicki are emerging talents, but for either to be signed, it likely takes a deal larger than what Cleveland gave David Njoku in May, when he signed a four-year deal for $56 million with $28 million guaranteed.

Both Gesicki and Schultz have been better statistically than Njoku, and both the Dolphins and Cowboys could tag each again in ’23 if need be.

2. HOF names semi-finalists for senior, contributor/coach categories (UPDATE)

On Thursday night, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committees released their lists of 25 Senior and 29 Coach/Contributor semifinalists for the Class of 2023.

An announcement on July 27 will reveal which three Senior candidates and one Coach/Contributor candidate will be made finalists. Then, on Super Bowl weekend, the next class will be announced.

While all the Senior names are deserving, former Green Bay Packers Sterling Sharpe is one name getting significant public backing. And, speaking with multiple Hall of Fame voters over the past year, it seems he’s gained momentum.

Still, it’s a crowded field which is headlined Atlanta Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis, Cincinnati Bengals corner Ken Riley, Los Angeles Rams corner Eddie Meador, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Maxie Baughan, Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar and others.

As for the Coach/Contributors, keep an eye on Mike Shanahan. The successful candidacies of coaches Bill Cowher and Dick Vermeil were enormous for Shanahan’s viability, who won two Super Bowls compared to one for the aforementioned duo.

Another name? Buddy Parker, who many believe has been an egregious oversight for years. Parker   won two NFL titles with the Detroit Lions in 1952 and ’53.

3. Cowboys should have made the money work for Von Miller

Von Miller chose Buffalo over Dallas. Who could imagine typing that sentence most years?

Yet it’s a credit to the Bills, who have built a championship contender in recent times under general manager Brandon Beane’s watch. And Miller, who in March signed a six-year, $120 million deal with $51 million guaranteed, might be the missing piece to the title puzzle.

However, Miller told The Athletic he was willing to take less money to play for the Cowboys, who were bidding on his services to the tune of five years and $70 million.

Of course, there’s less money, and there’s half the offer being made elsewhere. Not shockingly, Dallas was turned down and left without a replacement for Randy Gregory, who signed with Denver.

Some will say Dallas was wise not to pay a 33-year-old Miller such major money on a lengthy deal. Of course, those people would be missing the fine print.

The Cowboys could have matched Buffalo’s offer, which in reality is a three-year deal for the guaranteed sum. The last three seasons are essentially team options, with a combined $11.1 million in dead money if Miller is released prior to the 2025 season.

Dallas, desperate to reclaim past glory, could have used Miller. He just won his second Super Bowl, this time helping the Los Angeles Rams by notching four postseason sacks. The Cowboys are long on talent but short on experience and credentials.

After losing out on Miller, they remain so.

4. Duane Brown hurts situation with gun charge

Last week, Duane Brown might have bought himself more time in free agency.

On Saturday, the five-time Pro Bowl left tackle was arrested at LAX for allegedly possessing a concealed weapon. Brown was later released.

While the charge is one of a non-violent nature, it doesn’t help Brown’s case to be signed. Despite making the Pro Bowl with the Seahawks in 2021, Brown has been waiting for the right opportunity. Now, with a court date set for Aug. 3, teams may opt to wait to see how everything plays out from a legal standpoint.

5. Tyreek Hill is doing Tua Tagvailoa no favors with his rhetoric

You might not have heard, but Tyreek Hill has a podcast.

And on Hill’s podcast, It Needed to be Said, he’s famously taken shots at his former team in Kansas City, including towards quarterback Patrick Mahomes. However, and more importantly, he has continually heaped praise on his new quarterback with the Miami Dolphins, Tua Tgaovailoa, including on the latest episode.

Tagovailoa, 24, is entering his third NFL season. Considering the Dolphins have two first-round picks in a loaded ’23 class for quarterbacks, it’s make-or-break time. In his first two campaigns, the former Alabama star and Heisman Trophy winner has played in 23 games, throwing for 4,467 yards with 27 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

While Hill’s compliments are great for team chemistry and certainly understandable, they’re also putting serious additional pressure on Tagovailoa. Comparing him to Mahomes isn’t advisable. It also comes off as hollow considering the duo haven’t played a single down together, or even taking a full-speed game rep.

Tagovailoa might break out in 2022 with better weapons and a revamped offensive line. The Dolphins could be this year’s darlings behind first-year head coach Mike McDaniel. Hill could be a revelation in teal.

But talking non-stop isn’t helping anybody in Miami, even if it’s well-intended.

Two cents

I can’t stress enough how opposed I am to putting a dome on Soldier Field.

The Chicago Bears have played at the venue since moving out of Wrigley Field after the 1970 season. Since arriving there, the building has remained viable, but getting in and out regarding traffic is insanity on Lake Shore Drive.

Additionally, the Bears have a lacking tailgate scene because there’s nowhere to park, leaving fans with a middling experience. While Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot doesn’t want to see the team move outside city limits, the Bears would be well-advised to take the trip up I-90, relocate to Arlington Heights, and build out a full-blown campus which they own and operate.

Finally, a dome for the Bears? It’s sacrilege. It’s akin to when the Minnesota Vikings left Metropolitan Stadium and the snow for the sterile comfort provided in the Metrodome.

After more than 50 years at Soldier Field, it’s time the Bears leave Chicago, if only by a few miles.

Inside the league

All eyes are on Daniel Jones.

Jones, entering his fourth season with the New York Giants, saw his fifth-year option declined this spring. However, the quarterback is watching his organization get a much-needed overhaul with general manager Joe Schoen, head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka entering the building. For Jones, this is seen by many as his ultimate opportunity.

Few young coaches are respected more than Kafka, who was plucked from the Chiefs after serving as quarterbacks coach to Patrick Mahomes. Kafka, 34, gets his chance to run an offense with a host of weapons on the roster, including running back Saquon Barkley, and receivers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard.

As for Jones, he’ll be working directly with Daboll and Kafka, two coaches who have helped mold Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Mahomes. If he can’t improve with them, along with having quality targets and an improved offensive line behind first-round pick Evan Neal, the Giants will have their answer on how to move forward.

History lesson

Nobody ever had a better start to their career than Earl Campbell.

A first-round running back out of the University of Texas, Campbell dominated for the Houston Oilers over his first three seasons from 1978-80. In each campaign, he led the NFL in rushing yards and was named AP Offensive Player of the Year. He twice was the league-leader in touchdowns and earned the 1979 NFL MVP award.

How great was Campbell? He played two seasons in the 1970s, and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade Team.

Across his first three years, Campbell ran for 5,081 yards on 4.9 yards per attempt with 45 rushing touchdowns, averaging 110 yards per game. Houston reached the AFC title game twice and made the postseason in 1980, its last such trip until ’87.

Parting shot

What is the Indianapolis Colts’ ceiling?

Colts general manager Chris Ballard upgraded both sides of the ball with quarterback Matt Ryan, corner Stephon Gilmore and safety Rodney McLeod. Betting markets have Indy as the AFC South favorite. It’s a team on the rise, but how far can it ascend before hitting its head?

In the AFC, Indianapolis will have serious challengers. The Chiefs and Bills are perennial favorites. The Bengals are defending conference champs. The Ravens are well-built with a great coaching staff. The Los Angeles Chargers are loaded with talent. So on and so forth.

At WynnBet, the Colts slot in eighth in AFC title odds, behind the five teams above along with the Browns and Broncos. It’s hard to argue that ranking, although Watson’s situation could impact Cleveland significantly.

After years of looking for a quarterback, the Colts have one. But are they a Super Bowl contender? Might be a stretch.

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