CHARLOTTE, NC — Baker Mayfielddespite being healthy enough to play Sunday when the Carolina Panthers face the Atlanta Falcons, is accepting his role as the backup to a traveling quarterback. PJ Walker.
This will be the first time since the first three games of his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns that the top pick of the 2018 draft has not started when healthy.
“It’s one of those things. It’s one of those new things,” Mayfield said Thursday in his first interview since being sidelined for two games with a high ankle sprain. “You just have to roll with the punches. It’s not my plan, obviously. I’m a competitor, but I roll with the punches to help this team in any way I can.
“I came here to win. If it’s my role to help PJ out from the sideline and help this defense with scout team stuff, I’m going to do it. And I’m going to do it with everything I can.”
Mayfield added that he does not want to be traded before Tuesday’s NFL deadline.
“I’ve spent enough time with these guys,” Mayfield said. “I want to be here.”
Mayfield said this situation is different than it was in Cleveland in the spring when he asked to be traded after the Browns began pursuing the former Houston Texans quarterback. Deshaun Watson.
“That’s a very different scenario,” said Mayfield, who was acquired from the Panthers in a July trade. “They were 1-31 before I got there. That’s very different. I’m not going to get into that. There aren’t even comparable situations.”
Mayfield also admitted that he is at a crossroads in his career as he plays out his fifth-year option on his initial NFL contract.
“It’s obviously instrumental,” Mayfield said. “Fifth-year option. There’s no guarantees anymore that I’m going to be here. So I’m just trying to deal with it as best I can, take whatever role that is and do it as well as I can and roll with the punches.
“I trust the opinions in this building that they see the work that I put in consistently and I want the team to win. That’s just who I am.”
Despite the decision to go with Walker, Mayfield also showed support for interim coach Steve Wilks, who was with him in Cleveland in 2019 as the Browns’ defensive coordinator.
“You have respect that he calls it like he sees it,” Mayfield said. “He doesn’t hold back. He’s transparent. That’s what it’s all about.”
This will be Walker’s third straight start for Carolina (2-5) since Mayfield was injured in a Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. One day later, coach Matt Rhule was fired.
Wilks announced Monday that he is sticking with Walker this week regardless of whether Mayfield or veteran Sam Darnoldalso dealing with an ankle injury, were healthy.
Mayfield, who started 59 straight games at Cleveland after being replaced Tyrod Taylor in 2018, made it clear that he was healthy enough to play.
“If I go out and practice, I can play,” said Mayfield, who missed two games for the Browns in 2021 with a shoulder injury.
Mayfield couldn’t say enough good things about Walker, a former XFL star who began his NFL career in 2017 as an undrafted rookie with the Indianapolis Colts.
“I don’t think he ever had that mindset that he was fourth on the depth chart,” Mayfield said. “PJ’s a great leader. He’s a great quarterback. He’s a guy who’s continuously stepped up in this spot. He’s obviously been a few other spots, but he didn’t hesitate. He went in there and just did his thing. I have tremendous respect for PJ as a player, but more as a man.”
Mayfield is in a position of having to win the job back for a reason. He ranked last in the NFL in Total QBR (15.3) during the first five games and is on target for career lows in almost every statistical category.
Walker is 3-1 as a starter — and 1-1 this season — since entering the league in 2020. He had a Total QBR of 73.9 in Sunday’s 21-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, completing 16 of 22 pass tests. for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said Mayfield is handling his role as a backup well.
“Baker is Baker. Baker doesn’t lack confidence,” McAdoo said. “He’s played a lot of football in this league. I don’t see anything else from him. He helps in any way he can.”
Darnold, the 2021 starter who lost the starting job in training camp, said Mayfield has “a great positive attitude all the time.”
“It’s a business,” Darnold said. “There is no change in body language, no one is shaking their head. [the quarterback room]. Whatever the deal is, we understand what it is. PJ is playing this week and we are doing our best to help him.”
Wide receiver DJ Moore says Mayfield understands the business.
“I know he wishes he was the starter, but he’s the backup now,” Moore said. “So he’s going to encourage PJ the best way he can.”