NFL

Carolina Panthers announce Baker Mayfield as starting quarterback for season opener

By Sports Desk August 22, 2022

The competition for the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback job for the season opener is complete. 

Baker Mayfield will start in Week 1 when the Panthers host his former team – the Cleveland Browns – on September 11. 

"When we started this process, we were looking at three things," Carolina coach Matt Rhule said on Monday. "Number one, mastery of the offense, number two, situational football excellence, and number three, moving the ball and getting guys involved. That's been our focus all along. 

"Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time."

Mayfield and Sam Darnold had been battling for the starting job since the Panthers acquired Mayfield in a trade with the Browns in July. 

"All along, we've felt like we need to have a really strong quarterback room, and have every quarterback ready to play," Rhule said. "The reality of this league is most teams will play multiple quarterbacks. Sam has worked incredibly hard, played really well for us during training camp, and will be ready to go if and when it's needed."

Rhule was not ready to name a starting QB after the Panthers’ 20-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Friday – a game in which neither Mayfield nor Darnold played – but with rookie third-round draft pick Matt Corral suffering a Lisfranc ligament tear in his foot in that game and the season opener now less than three weeks away, he is ready to give Mayfield the opportunity to lead the offense in Week 1. 

"Like I said all along, when we know we know," Rhule said on Friday, "And we’ll announce something when it’s right."

Rhule did not say anything about the starting job being Mayfield’s all season, so it’s certainly possible Darnold could take over if the 27-year-old struggles or the losses pile up and the team needs a spark. 

The two signal-callers will be forever linked as the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2018 draft, with Mayfield going first overall to the Browns and Darnold being chosen third by the New York Jets. 

Mayfield started 59 games in his four seasons in Cleveland and helped lead the Browns to their first playoff victory since the 1994 season in 2020. 

He battled injuries in 2021, however, and his production on the field dipped as he posted an 83.1 passer rating – fourth lowest among the 30 QBs with at least 350 pass attempts – as Cleveland struggled to an 8-9 record, prompting the team to pursue Deshaun Watson in the trade market. 

Darnold spent three seasons with the Jets before being traded to the Panthers for draft picks last April. He won his first three starts with Carolina last season before finishing 4-7 with nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions and a 71.9 QB rating – one spot worse than Mayfield. 

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