CLEVELAND — After the Cleveland Browns agreed to trade Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers earlier this week, one of the most surprising details about the deal was that the former No. 1 overall pick took a pay cut to help facilitate it. As a part of the trade's stipulations, the Browns will continue to pay $10.5 million of Mayfield's previously $18.9 million salary, while the Panthers will pay just $5.5 million.
Why would Mayfield take a possible $3.5 million pay cut -- he can reportedly earn the money back via incentives -- from a previously fully guaranteed salary? According to one NFL insider, it was a matter of the Oklahoma product paving a path to play football again.
"I think that he ultimately realized that by holding out for the full amount of money from the Browns, he was cutting off his nose to spite his face," Aditi Kinkhabwala said while appearing on The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on Thursday. "Ultimately, his best bet was to get back on the field. As I said yesterday, affirm that he is the guy that we saw two years ago, affirm that he is indeed a good teammate, and affirm that he can indeed lead a team and bet on himself."
Mayfield's departure from Cleveland comes more than three months after he first requested a trade from the Browns, which the team initially denied. But after Cleveland acquired Deshaun Watson in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Texans, the Browns made their former quarterback available, with the Panthers being the team most consistently linked as a suitor for the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner.
In heading to Carolina, Mayfield will look to revive his NFL career, which has featured no shortage of ups and downs. After helping lead Cleveland to its first playoff appearance since 2002 and first postseason win since 1994 in 2020, the 27-year-old signal-caller struggled through an injury-plagued 2021 season in which the Browns fell well short of preseason expectations.
While there's no guaranteeing that Mayfield will start for the Panthers -- who will host Cleveland in Week 1 of the 2022 season -- going to Carolina was clearly one of his best chances to receive consistent playing time. That alone was apparently worth a possible $3.5 million pay cut to Mayfield, who is at a crossroads in his once-promising NFL career.
"We know this about Baker: Even though it got a little old once he won the Heisman and was the No. 1 overall pick, he loves the idea of being undervalued, undersold, having that chip on his shoulder," Kinkhabwala said. "What better than this?"