Baker Mayfield is a free agent. On Monday the Carolina Panthers owned their horrible mistake and cut Mayfield, just six months after trading for him. Normally a terrible quarterback being released wouldn’t warrant any discussion, but Mayfield finds himself in the right place at the right time — and when it comes to wanting Baker Mayfield in December of 2022, the “right time” is synonymous with “weird time.”
The injury bug had taken a huge bite out of some of the biggest teams in the league, many of whom are either inside the playoff bubble, or just outside it. It’s the kind of situation so dramatic that it could lead to teams making waiver claims on Mayfield just to block him going to other locations, or simply to secure their QB spot with someone, anyone — vs. risking losing them in a bidding war.
It’s really important to understand what you’re getting with Mayfield at this point. He sucks. We can litigate why he’s gotten so bad, but it doesn’t change the reality. In six starts for the Panthers this season he threw for 1,158 yards, 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Mayfield was unable to get the ball to star wide receiver D.J. Moore, he couldn’t win, and the Panthers got into their hole largely because of horrible play at the QB position.
So, the question is less whether Mayfield is the kind of QB who can win for critical games, because he can’t — and more whether he’s better than the dwindling list of names available on the open market. At the very least he’s in game shape and has been working out for an NFL team, something other players can’t boast.
San Francisco 49ers
This is the most obvious destination. The 49ers are now down BOTH their top two quarterbacks with Jimmy Garoppolo going down with a broken foot after replacing Trey Lance who was placed on I.R. earlier this year. Yes, the team made the quick signing of perennial journeyman Josh Johnson, but that doesn’t prohibit them from looking for more help from the position.
In many ways this match might actually work. Baker is still terrible, but Kyle Shanahan’s offense won’t ask him to stretch the field too much or make plays with his arm. He’ll be able to sit behind a better offensive line than he had in Carolina, and simply try to make the short throws asked of him.
It really depends where the Niners see themselves. Do they really think this could be a Super Bowl season with someone like Mayfield at the helm? If the answer is yes, they could bite on a waiver.
Los Angeles Rams
This is a bit of a weird one. The 3-9 Rams haven’t technically been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but that “technically” is doing a whole lot of work. At 3-9 it would take a small miracle to push the Rams back into the picture amongst a crowded NFC playoff bubble, but it would allow them to do some Grade-A hating.
Mayfield would unquestionably be better than what Los Angeles has right now. A season-ending injury to Matthew Stafford has effectively killed their chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions. However, signing Mayfield would block the 49ers, and if L.A. thinks taking a QB would kill San Francisco’s chances at the postseason, maybe they decide to go for it?
The Ravens have already gotten out ahead of Lamar Jackson’s knee injury by saying it’s not “season ending,” but it could effectively be season ending for Balitmore’s payoff hopes. As it stands the team is at 8-4, leading the AFC North — but they’re tied with the Bengals. Meanwhile both the Browns and Steelers are outside the bubble looking in, and at 5-7 they’re within striking distance.
John Harbaugh spoke in terms that make it sound like Jackson will need a week or so, at most, to get back to the field — with hopes it’ll be even sooner. The next two weeks for Baltimore? At Pittsburgh AND Cleveland. Normally you’d expect the team to just roll with Tyler Huntley, because it’s better to have the devil you know — but these are critical games coming down the stretch that might necessitate the Ravens trying to get an upgrade at the position vs. settling for the status quo.
New York Jets
Here’s a weird one. Let it be known that I think this is absolutely the wrong approach, but the Jets could definitely be a team to watch when it comes to Mayfield. New York’s offense is entirely based on throwing the short ball, and taking what a defense gives the QB beyond that.
Mike White has been a huge upgrade over Zach Wilson, but he wasn’t perfect against the Vikings by any means. An inability to throw a single touchdown turned out to be the difference, as the Jets ended up losing to one of the best teams in the NFC by five points.
There’s definitely a timeline where the Jets believe getting a veteran player with more starts under center is their key to competing right now — and let’s face it: Mayfield is used to getting carried by a defense, and he might be better right now than White is. Watch this space, because there really is a scenario where the Jets trade away Sam Darnold, draft a worse QB, then sign the player who Darnold replaced in Carolina.
I don’t think these teams will sign him, but I’m adding them because it’s hilarious
Denver Broncos: Why have one short QB who struggles to throw over the line when you can have two?
Indianapolis Colts: Baker is the missing piece, at least in Jeff Saturday’s vast coaching experience.
Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson sucked in his return and he’s rusty. Polish that turd by trotting out Baker and reminding fans how bad things could be.
New Orleans Saints: For the funniest, most nonsensical playoff push in recent memory.
Carolina Panthers: Might as well plan ahead a few weeks for when Sam Darnold sucks again.