What's next for Baker Mayfield after being released by Panthers?

When the the Carolina Panthers agreed in July to send a conditional 2024 draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, they were hoping to resurrect his career.

The renaissance didn't happen, and it wasn't even close.

Mayfield went 1-5 as the starter and was on target for career lows in every major statistical category, including a 16.8 Total QBR that ranked last in the league. That led to his release on Monday, with the Panthers (4-8) set to go with Sam Darnold and PJ Walker as their top quarterbacks for the rest of the season.

Mayfield asked to be waived, but he likely would have been released soon anyway. The timing could be good with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens possibly in the market for a veteran quarterback after Sunday, as the 49ers lost Jimmy Garoppolo (broken left foot) for the rest of the season and the Ravens could be without Lamar Jackson (left knee) for a while.

In terms of the Panthers, all his release did was guarantee the conditional pick from Cleveland will be a fifth-rounder instead of a fourth-rounder, since Mayfield didn't play 70% of the snaps this season.

It also guaranteed they are still searching for their franchise quarterback.

ESPN considered several remaining questions surrounding Mayfield:

Why didn't it work out for Mayfield in Carolina?

He didn't win. It's that simple.

You could argue the Panthers didn't play to Mayfield's strengths like the Browns did in 2020 when they committed to the running game to take pressure off the quarterback. That type of a commitment didn't come until after interim coach Steve Wilks replaced head coach Matt Rhule, who was fired after a 1-4 start with Mayfield.

But even with a commitment to the run in Mayfield's only start under Wilks, the quarterback didn't respond. He was 21-of-33 for 196 yards and two interceptions in a 13-3 loss at Baltimore. That sealed his fate, if it wasn't sealed before then. Management likely knew at that point Mayfield wouldn't be a part of their long-term plans. Darnold still has a chance to be, so they cut bait and moved on from Mayfield. -- David Newton

Why did the Panthers release him now?

The timing was the plan all along once it was clear Walker (ankle) was ready to return from an ankle sprain to back up Darnold. That would have made Mayfield inactive the rest of the season, and it didn't benefit either side for that to happen. That Mayfield asked for his release didn't really change things, but it did make him available in case the 49ers, Ravens or another team needing quarterback help wants to gamble on him down the stretch.

The Panthers agreed to pay $4.858 million of Mayfield's $18.8 2022 salary when they traded for him. Mayfield agreed to take a $3.5 million cut on the remainder of his salary with incentives in his contract to earn that back. He never came close to reaching those, and he'll be a free agent during the offseason. -- David Newton

Would the injury-depleted San Francisco 49ers consider signing Mayfield?

Given that the Niners are already down to their No. 3 quarterback -- seventh-round pick Brock Purdy -- after season-ending injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, they have to consider every available option. That includes Mayfield. Purdy is going to be the starter moving forward, regardless, but the Niners have to determine if Mayfield would be a fit as a backup.

San Francisco already added Josh Johnson, at least in part because of his familiarity with the offense from his time with the team in 2020. Mayfield played in a version of coach Kyle Shanahan's offense with the Cleveland Browns, but could he catch up on the verbiage enough to be an upgrade over Johnson in the near future?

There is also locker room fit to consider. Mayfield hasn't exactly endeared himself to key Niners, including defensive end Nick Bosa, who has some bad blood with Mayfield that dates back to college. It's also not entirely in the Niners' control, as they sit No. 24 in the waiver order and other quarterback-needy teams are in front of them. It's possible one of those teams could consider claiming Mayfield, which could set off a domino effect that makes another quarterback available whom the Niners might want. -- Nick Wagoner

Is there a market for Mayfield beyond the 49ers now or in the offseason?

Mayfield's market is not exactly magma hot. His stint in Carolina was supposed to reset his career as a springboard into free agency this offseason, but it probably hurt his case due to accuracy issues (career-low 57.8% completion percentage in 2022).

Teams I've talked to say his days as an NFL starter could be numbered. But several teams could be completely starting over at quarterback, including the New Orleans Saints, Washington Commanders, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets and New York Giants. There will be jobs available. But he's low on the free agent pecking order.

Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady, Garoppolo, Geno Smith and Daniel Jones are atop the upcoming free agent class, followed by solid backups such as Teddy Bridgewater and Jacoby Brissett. Supply and demand will hurt his case. -- Jeremy Fowler

What are the Panthers' quarterback options heading into 2023?

The draft.

They're likely looking at a top-10 pick, maybe a top-five selection, and this is a strong quarterback class.

General manager Scott Fitterer says the best way to ensure long-term stability at quarterback, particularly from the financial side, is through the draft. And they still have last year's third-round pick, Matt Corral, who has spent his rookie season on IR with a Lisfranc injury in his left foot.

Having said that, the Panthers could bring back Darnold as a bridge quarterback as they develop a draft pick and/or Corral, if he agrees to backup money. They could include Walker in those plans as well.

But it's clear neither is a long-term fix for a problem that has plagued this team since Cam Newton began having injury issues midway through the 2018 season. -- David Newton