The NFL Week 1 matchup featuring the Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers looked rather boring on paper until today, when the Browns traded quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield to the Panthers for a conditional 2024 fourth- or fifth-round draft pick. Mayfield almost certainly will be under center Sept. 11 against his former team, which was a 3.5-point favorite but is now -1 at Caesars Sportsbook. The spread may change again if and when the Deshaun Watson suspension is finally levied. The SportsLine Projection Model slightly increases Panthers futures with Mayfield replacing Sam Darnold.
The trade is pending a physical and Mayfield agreed to trim $3.5 million of his guaranteed base salary. Cleveland will pay Mayfield $10.5 million this season, meaning the team cut more than $8 million in cash and salary-cap space, and the Panthers will pay about $5 million. They already are on the hook for approximately $19 million guaranteed to Darnold, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Mayfield went first that year.
At Caesars, Carolina went from +12500 to +10000 to win Super Bowl 57, from +6000 to +5000 to win the NFC, and +1200 to +1100 to take the NFC South. To make the playoffs, Yes dropped from +500 to +400. The Panthers' Over/Under win total of 6.5 hasn't changed as of now.
Mayfield was 29-30 as a starter in Cleveland; Darnold was 4-7 last year with Carolina and is 17-32 in his NFL career. Mayfield moved from +10000 to +8000 to lead the NFL in passing yards this year. He's +15000 to win the MVP. The Panthers also selected Matt Corral in the third round of this year's draft, but there's no reason to cut Darnold since his salary is guaranteed.
The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts Carolina to improve from 5.6 wins to 6.3 with Mayfield starting all season over Darnold and from a 4.4 percent chance of making the playoffs to 8.8 percent – that equates to about +1040 on the moneyline.
Mayfield becomes just the third quarterback in NFL history to go first overall in the draft and spend four or fewer seasons with the team that drafted him, joining JaMarcus Russell (Raiders) and Jeff George (Colts).
Too many bridges had been burned between Mayfield and the Browns for the former Heisman winner to return there this season, even though Watson might be suspended for the entire season – that news could come this week. Thus, the Week 1 starting QB for the Browns should be journeyman Jacoby Brissett, a free-agent addition.
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