The Carolina Panthers released Baker Mayfield, now everyone thinks he'll sign with the 49ers
The Carolina Panthers traded what turned out to be a fifth round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns in hopes Baker Mayfield could revive his career in Charlotte. He couldn’t. Now the 4-8 Panthers are releasing him.
Mayfield was a disaster over seven games in Carolina. He was the least viable option in a QB room that featured Sam Darnold and PJ Walker. He threw as many touchdowns as interceptions and completed less than 58 percent of his passes. He was 1-6 in games he played for a team that went 3-2 while he was glued to the bench. He was the last, desperate gasp of the Matt Rhule era, then proved to be the league’s worst quarterback.
That graph charts the performance of every quarterback who has played at least 208 snaps in 2022. By virtue of advanced stats, Mayfield was not only a detriment to his team but significantly worse than Zach Wilson and Davis Mills. This was not an asset to the Carolina Panthers organization, so it made sense to cut him free rather than let him languish as the team’s third-string quarterback through the end of a lost season.
But news of Mayfield’s impending unemployment sent NFL fans on Twitter to the same destination; the San Francisco 49ers.
There’s logic there. San Francisco is in the middle of a playoff push but has already lost two starting quarterbacks for the rest of the year. Trey Lance went down with a broken ankle in Week 2. Jimmy Garoppolo, resplendent in his return (6-3 as a starter and playing the most efficient football of his career), broke his foot in Week 13. That’s left the Niners’ QB depth chart looking like this:
- Brock Purdy
- Josh Johnson
- Jacob Eason
Mayfield, as bad as he’s been in 2022, has a higher ceiling than any of those players. More importantly, he’d join an offense built around making flawed quarterbacks better through an arsenal of playmakers who can take short targets long distances.
While head coach Kyle Shanahan may prefer to roll with Purdy, it’s not as though the rookie seventh-round pick has a wealth of experience inside this offense. Mayfield could join the roster as a backup and push the promoted third-stringer for snaps. If nothing else, he’d add valuable experience to a group with nine career NFL starts between them — all of which come from the 36-year-old Johnson, who signed with the team yesterday.
Would Mayfield be better than any of those guys? Unclear! Purdy handled some easy lifting in a gameplan where his average completion traveled only 3.5 yards downfield, but he also showed off useful composure while turning a 10-10 game into a 33-17 49ers win in Week 13.
But Purdy is also a first year quarterback so lightly regarded that he slid to the final selection of the 2022 NFL Draft. He put together an average performance against a defense that hadn’t prepared for him. Once opponents begin to churn through his game tape they’ll find ways to confuse and exploit him.
Mayfield, on the other hand, is who he is. He’s faced pressure and risen to the occasion (but also shrunk from it). He’s got a playoff win under his belt and is only 27 years old.
He’s also 2022’s worst starting quarterback and has more four-fumble games this fall (one) than three-touchdown games (zero). He’s prone to missing open slots downfield, hesitating in the pocket and taking drive-killing sacks — his 8.4 percent sack rate is significantly higher than the 5.1 percent shared by Darnold and Walker this fall.
Could Shanahan wring value out of that? Could he restore Mayfield to something approaching luster the way he has with Garoppolo? Does he even want to?
The good news is that option exists. Before Monday the best available free agent or practice squad quarterbacks were all players in the Johnson realm of underwhelming — guys like Matt Barkley, Joshua Dobbs and the faded imprint of what was once Cam Newton. “San Francisco 49er Baker Mayfield” makes sense, especially given the timing of his release.
Now we wait and see if Shanahan and general manager John Lynch take the bait. If nothing else, Mayfield would be a proper backup for Purdy. That’s a grim statement on how far the former top overall pick’s star has fallen. But those are the breaks when you emerge as a significantly worse quarterback than Zach Wilson or Davis Mills.