Carolina Panthers' Baker Mayfield: No built-in animosity ahead of Week 1 game against former team, Cleveland Browns

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Baker Mayfield has a reputation for coming up big in so-called "revenge" games, but the Carolina Panthers quarterback insists he's not looking at Sunday's opener against Cleveland that way even though his time with the Browns ended "abruptly and unexpectedly.''

"It's a great storyline,'' Mayfield said Wednesday. "Obviously, there's history leading up to this week. [But] there's other games in the NFL that guys are playing (against) their former team. It's just the excitement of leading up to Week 1 that is building that anticipation up. It's the familiarity.''

Mayfield spent his first four NFL seasons with the Browns, who made him the top pick in the 2018 draft. He was traded to Carolina in July, almost three months after Cleveland acquired Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans.

"Any time you're playing guys you know, it makes it just more interesting, more fun,'' Mayfield said. "You get to smack talk with your buddies that you've been with for a little bit. You know how to poke and prod and get the best out of them.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity.''

If he has any animosity toward the Browns, Mayfield isn't showing it.

"I'm grateful for the time I had in Cleveland,'' he said. "I started my career there. The fans there, it's a football town. As I mentioned multiple times it ended abruptly and unexpectedly, but we're here now.

"Everything happens for a reason. I'm rolling with the punches. I'm happy to be a Panther.''

Mayfield wouldn't even take credit for the "Off the Leash'' T-shirts his public relations team put on sale last week in anticipation of Sunday's game.

One shirt has a headshot of Mayfield wearing a cowboy hat from his college days with the Oklahoma Sooners with a spiked dog collar and broken chain below. Above his head are the words "Off the Leash.'' The other simply has a picture of Mayfield in a Panthers uniform running with a cowboy hat that apparently flew off his head. There's a picture of a broken doghouse (Cleveland) and stagecoach (Oklahoma) below him on each side of his last name.

"Oh, man, I wish I could say that I came up with the T-shirts, but I've got a team behind me,'' Mayfield said. "They put a few hidden messages, just my history, some subliminal stuff in there.

"I think people back home that have been following for me a long time like it. It's just a fun thing to do.''

Mayfield is doing his best to make Sunday's game all about having fun and getting off to a good start for the Panthers, who also tried to trade for Watson. Carolina guard Austin Corbett, who spent his first year and a half with the QB in Cleveland, likes that tactic.

"That's what the media wants to see,'' he said. "We're not here to make it a show about us. There's 16 other games that come after that home.''

Wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who spent the past four years in Cleveland with Mayfield, agreed, but he did suggest several times in the past month that the QB eventually will show the personality that has defined his career.

"There's no hate towards Cleveland,'' Higgins said. "We were both happy there. It came down to what it came down to. We're in this position now to help the Panthers win, and that's the only goal moving forward.''

But Higgins does expect to see Mayfield excel as he has in other big games. He recalled vividly a 2020 game for Cleveland in which Mayfield started out 0-for-5 with an interception against the rival Cincinnati Bengals, then completed 22 of 23 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-34 victory.

"When he's jacked up, he plays good,'' said Higgins, noting the offense watched film of that game earlier Wednesday. "Let him eat, man, let him eat. Y'all remember that slogan, we all got to eat? Man, let him do his thing. This is where he gained his confidence. . . . It's going to be fun. I ain't got nothing else to say.''

Mayfield hasn't said anything derogatory about his former team since arriving in Carolina. But he has dug into his memory bank of past games against former teams, such as 2015 at Oklahoma when he beat Texas Tech, the team that let him transfer two years earlier. Oklahoma won that game 63-27, with Mayfield completing 15 of 22 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns.

"Any time you can relate from your past experiences, good or bad, you can always learn from it,'' Mayfield said. "Good or bad, you can always benefit from that. So I think it will help.''

While Mayfield admits he's "all about winning,'' his immediate desire Sunday is simple.

"A big hug from Nicholas Chubb would be a really, really good gift,'' he said of the Browns running back. "Just to hear him say a word would also be nice.''