Cleveland Browns trade Baker Mayfield to Carolina Panthers for 2024 conditional NFL draft pick

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns agreed to trade quarterback Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday for a 2024 conditional draft pick.

The Panthers will pay $4.85 million of Mayfield's salary, while the Browns will pay $10.5 million, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Mayfield agreed to convert the remainder of his $18.8 million salary into incentives to facilitate the deal, which is pending a physical. Mayfield can earn back that money based on team performance, a source said.

The Browns will receive a fourth- or fifth-round pick in 2024, depending on Mayfield's playing time in Carolina, a source told ESPN. For the pick to go to a fourth-rounder, Mayfield would have to play 70% of the snaps, a league source told ESPN's David Newton.

Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, joins a Panthers team that already has Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall selection in 2018, on its quarterback depth chart. The Panthers also selected Matt Corral in the third round of this year's draft.

The Panthers have no intention of trading Darnold after acquiring Mayfield, a league source told Newton.

Now Mayfield and Darnold, who competed with each other to become the No. 1 pick in 2018, will compete again in training camp to vie for the right to be the Panthers' starter this season, a league source told Schefter.

If Mayfield wins the job, his first starting assignment will be against the Browns, who are scheduled to visit Carolina in Week 1. The Browns are currently 1-point favorites at Caesars Sportsbook.

Panthers quarterbacks posted a 30.3 QBR last season, which ranked 30th in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Mayfield had a 35.1 QBR last season, ranking 27th of the 31 qualified quarterbacks, while Darnold was the only non-rookie with a lower QBR.

With the trade, Carolina's Super Bowl odds went from 125-1 to 100-1 at Caesars Sportsbook, while its odds to win the NFC jumped from 60-1 to 50-1 and to win the NFC South from 12-1 to 11-1.

"We want to thank Baker for all his contributions to the Cleveland Browns," owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. "From the moment he was drafted, he gave his all for this organization and this city. With his fierce competitive spirit, he excited the fanbase and accomplished things that no player at his position had done in Cleveland for a very long time. He also made a difference in the community, whether it was hosting events at the Boys and Girls Club, honoring our troops, supporting the Special Olympics as well as countless other charitable endeavors. We are grateful for everything he did for this organization and wish him and Emily well in the future."

The Mayfield trade comes on the heels of Cleveland's blockbuster deal with the Houston Texans that landed quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns gave Watson a new five-year deal worth $230 million fully guaranteed, the richest deal in guaranteed money in NFL history by an $80 million margin. Cleveland also surrendered three first-round picks in the deal, the first team to do so for a single player since the Minnesota Vikings traded three first-rounders to the Dallas Cowboys for running back Herschel Walker in 1989.

With Mayfield gone, the Browns now have starter Watson along with Jacoby Brissett and Josh Dobbs at quarterback. Watson, however, might not be available to the Browns at all this season. He has been accused in civil lawsuits by 25 women of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. His hearing before the NFL and NFL Players Association's jointly appointed disciplinary officer, Sue L. Robinson, finished after three days Thursday.

The NFL has been pushing for a suspension for at least a year, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano, who reported that both sides engaged in multiple attempts to reach a settlement while the hearing was still happening but remain unable to agree. There is no timetable for Robinson's decision.

If Watson is suspended, the Browns are expected to start Brissett at quarterback.

The Watson trade effectively ended the Mayfield era in Cleveland. The Browns selected the former Heisman Trophy winner No. 1 in 2018, and he made his debut in Week 3 that season off the bench and rallied the Browns to their first victory in 635 days. He went on to finish second in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting while breaking the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdowns. That record was later broken in 2020 by the Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert, who finished with 31 touchdown passes.

Mayfield's tenure overall, however, was marred by inconsistency, drama and a left shoulder injury that plagued him throughout the 2021 season.

Over his four years in Cleveland, Mayfield, according to multiple sources, had grown increasingly frustrated with a franchise that had made him the fourth quarterback in NFL history to play for four different head coaches in his first three seasons. Even after Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff victory in 26 years during the 2020 season, the team declined to engage Mayfield's camp about a potential contract extension once he became eligible for one, a signal to Mayfield he might not be in the team's long-term plans.

Mayfield then suffered a torn labrum to his non-throwing left shoulder in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Instead of sitting out or undergoing season-ending surgery, Mayfield played through the injury and struggled for much of the season. One season after finishing in the top 10 in QBR in 2020, he fell all the way to 27th in 2021, the largest QBR dropoff (30.4) of any passer in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Still, over the past two months, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry repeatedly had publicly affirmed that Mayfield would remain their quarterback.

At the NFL combine in February, Berry told Mayfield's agent the Browns might pursue an elite-level quarterback, such as Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, according to a source familiar with the conversation. Mayfield's camp was also aware that short list could eventually include Watson, even with 22 pending civil cases at the time alleging inappropriate behavior and sexual assault during massage sessions.

On March 12, when a Texas grand jury declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson, the Browns made their move, securing a meeting with Watson in Houston.

Multiple sources told ESPN that Mayfield was angered that the Browns didn't inform him directly that they would be meeting with Watson; instead, he found out about it over social media. Mayfield responded with a statement that night thanking the city of Cleveland and its fans "who truly embraced who I am" while Browns officials were flying back from Houston.

The breaking point for Mayfield with the Browns, however, came later that week.

On March 16, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported a Browns source had told him that the team wanted to replace Mayfield with "an adult at that position."

Mayfield requested a trade the next day. The Browns initially told him they were "not accommodating his request." But after Cleveland landed Watson, Mayfield became expendable.

As a result, Mayfield becomes just the third quarterback in NFL history to go No. 1 overall in the draft and last four or fewer seasons with the team that drafted him, according to ESPN Stats & Information, joining JaMarcus Russell (Raiders) and Jeff George (Colts).