Baker Mayfield finally found his way out of Cleveland on Tuesday as the Browns reportedly traded the 2018 No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers for a fifth-round selection.
Mayfield's arrival in Carolina slightly jostles the NFC picture for the 2022 season and could have interesting ramifications on the 2023 NFL Draft and, potentially, the Bears' offseason outlook.
Let's start with the first bullet point.
The Bears, Panthers, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, and Seattle Seahawks are expected to be the bottom feeders of the NFC this fall, with all potentially in the running for the No. 1 pick in next April's draft.
With a presumed healthy Mayfield on board, it's fair to assume the Panthers, led by an on-the-hot-seat Matt Rhule, will be more competitive than the rebuilding Bears, Falcons, Giants, Seahawks, and Lions.
Early reports suggest Mayfield will compete with Sam Darnold for the starting quarterback spot. But Mayfield has already shown that, when fully healthy, he's a much more effective quarterback than the one known for seeing ghosts.
In a bad NFC South and with a winnable schedule, the Mayfield-led Panthers should be able to find their way to seven or eight wins and see themselves out of the picture for the No. 1 pick. That picture will likely also include the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans from the AFC and, potentially, Mayfield's former team should the NFL suspend Deshaun Watson for the entire season.
The Bears, like the Panthers, face a winnable 2022 schedule but have a roster with holes at almost every level. While I expect a breakout season for quarterback Justin Fields, the lack of overall talent around him could see the Bears finish with one of the worst records in the NFL.
That brings us to the potentially larger ramifications of the Mayfield trade.
I've written why the Bears finishing the 2022 season with the No. 1 overall pick, or at least a top-three pick, would be the best thing for their long-term rebuild. So let's operate under this hypothetical.
If Fields pops but the losses pile up, the Bears will have the opportunity to host a bidding war for a top-three pick in a draft with two elite quarterbacks in Bryce and C.J. Stroud.
The Panthers were one of the teams, along with the Seahawks, Lions, Giants, and Texans, who would covet the chance to land Young or Stroud. Such a position of power could allow the Bears to land multiple first-round picks to move down a few spots and still draft a blue-chip receiver or edge rusher while accumulating top-tier draft capital.
But suppose Mayfield plays well for the Panthers – a possibility but not a certainty since Ben McAdoo is his offensive coordinator – and Rhule keeps his job. In that case, the Panthers could exit the 2022 season with their franchise quarterback already on the roster. They could re-sign Mayfield to a long-term extension and won't need to get into the bidding war to jump into the top two or three in the draft.
The Panthers not being in the quarterback market would, in theory, thin out the potential trade market should the Bears find themselves in the unique and advantageous position of having a top-three pick without the need to draft a quarterback.
Now, the Mayfield-McAdoo combination could become combustible and the Panthers could crumble, leading to the firing of Rhule and forcing Mayfield into the unknown. That scenario would make the Panthers and their next coach desperate to find their way into the top two/three to draft Stroud or Young.
While McAdoo is a giant red flag, I believe a healthy and motivated Mayfield will be good for a Panthers team that showed flashes early last season before imploding.
It's possible the Bears take advantage of their soft schedule, find a way to six, seven, or eight wins, and make all this hypothetical draft talk moot.
However, if things go as Year 0 rebuilds typically go, the Bears will be in the conversation for a high draft pick, putting them in position to take advantage of quarterback-desperate teams wanting to move up.
But the Panthers' move for Mayfield might take them out of that conversation entirely.