When the Panthers announced Wednesday they had agreed to a trade for Baker Mayfield, it marked the end of a two-month dance between the Browns and Panthers that was more like a game of chicken.
A few weeks after Cleveland won the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes in March, Browns general manager Andrew Berry began talking to Carolina GM Scott Fitterer to try to find a home in Charlotte for their displaced and unhappy quarterback.
The two men — both former scouts — would spend a lot of time on the phone together over the ensuing weeks, neither wanting to budge when it came to how much each would pay toward Mayfield’s guaranteed $18.858 million salary for 2022.
They talked on the second night of the NFL Draft, when the Panthers pulled off a trade — not for Mayfield, but a move up into the third round to select former Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral. The acquisition of Corral paused the Mayfield negotiations, which resumed about a week before both teams held mandatory minicamps in June.
The financial gap had closed, but not enough to suit Panthers owner David Tepper, who was determined not to overpay for a player he viewed as a depressed asset. Multiple sources told The Athletic that while the Browns discussed Mayfield’s situation with other teams during “routine” offseason discussions, the Panthers were the only serious suitor.
With trade terms long having been agreed upon and only financial particulars left to be settled, the Browns granted the Panthers permission to speak with Mayfield and his representation around the time of minicamps. Concessions by all sides, including Mayfield’s willingness to take a pay cut, helped get the deal done July 5, just after the long, holiday weekend.
News of the trade broke Wednesday. By Thursday, Mayfield was cutting a Bahamas vacation short to fly to Charlotte for a physical and to sign with his new team, ending a relationship with the Browns that had been broken beyond repair.
The Athletic spoke to officials with both teams and a source close to Mayfield to chronicle the various starts and stops, as well as the key moments that eventually led to the 27-year-old quarterback touching down in Charlotte.