Baker Mayfield to Carolina. Seahawks to roll with Drew Lock vs Geno Smith, await the draft

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·7 min read
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
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Three weeks until Seahawks training camp begins, and Drew Lock remains a relative unknown to Seattle.

Geno Smith remains the leader so far in the competition to succeed Russell Wilson as the Seahawks’ quarterback, because of familiarity.

And Baker Mayfield is now with the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers acquired Mayfield Wednesday, for a 2024 conditional fifth-round draft pick. NFL Network reported the Panthers and Mayfield’s former Cleveland Browns agreed to split the former first-overall draft pick’s $18.86 million salary for 2022 to make the trade happen.

The Browns are now reportedly paying $10.5 million and the Panthers are paying $5 million of that. Mayfield took a $3.5 million pay cut to finalize the trade.

The Seahawks explored what it might have taken to add Mayfield to their competition between Smith and Lock, in a trade. But Seattle’s interest remained on the periphery.

For quarterback, the Seahawks are loading up for 2023, and the possibilities next year’s draft will bring.

The real question wasn’t: How can the Seahawks acquire Mayfield?

It was: Did they even want to acquire him? Would he have been better than their current options?

No. Not even at $5 million, the cost the Panthers reportedly are paying for Mayfield.

“I don’t see us making a trade for anybody, at all. I don’t see that happening,” Carroll said on 93.3 KJR radio in May.

The fact is, the Seahawks don’t want to invest more at quarterback for this year. Since the day they sent Wilson to Denver in the mammoth trade in March, coach Pete Carroll’s and general manager John Schneider’s goal has been to have a new quarterback for the longer term by the end of the 2023 draft.

The contracts for Lock and Smith both end after this season.

Trading Wilson gave Seattle two first- and two second-round picks in next spring’s draft. It is loaded with top quarterback talent, with what NFL scouts see as potential plug-and-play starters at that position. The Seahawks, for one of the only times in the last dozen, mostly winning years under Carroll and Schneider, have multiple top picks to draft an elite college QB.

Next spring will be the first time Seattle has owned two first-round picks in a draft since 2010. That year, in their first months leading the franchise, Carroll and Schneider took Russell Okung sixth overall and Earl Thomas 14th.

The Wilson trade gave Seattle the ninth-overall choice in the 2022 draft, plus two picks in the second round this year. But this year’s draft did not have a quarterback the Seahawks — or many other teams — believed was good enough to play right away in the league. When the Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett at 20th overall in April, it was the latest for the first QB to be selected in any NFL draft since 1997. And no quarterbacks got drafted in the second round this year.

Seattle selected its new starting left tackle at ninth overall this year, Charles Cross.

Next spring is the time — and the year — to draft high and invest at quarterback, at low, rookie-contract cost.

Not this year. And not in Mayfield, not while he remained under his $18.86 million contract.

Xs and Os fit

Would Mayfield have been worth $5 million for this year to the Seahawks?

Schematically for Seattle, Mayfield may not be any better of a fit than Lock or Smith.

Mayfield’s best NFL season was 2020. He threw for 4,030 yards with 30 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He led Cleveland to a postseason win at rival Pittsburgh before a narrow loss at mighty Kansas City in the AFC divisional-playoff round. He was healthy then, unlike last year when he tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, dislocated his shoulder and had multiple leg injuries.

The 2020 Browns gave him a lot of “11” personnel: one running back and one tight end with three wide receivers.

Doug Farrar of USA Today recently detailed Mayfield’s performance that 2020 season when the Browns had formations with 11 personnel. Mayfield completed 66% of his throws for about half his total passing yardage that season (1,960 yards), 20 touchdowns and six interceptions in 11 personnel. Those numbers were on par with the Chiefs’ All-Pro and Super Bowl-champion passer Patrick Mahomes. Per Farrar, Mayfield’s passer rating of 103.2 with 11 personnel ranked seventh in the league in 2020.

Farrar detailed how Mayfield was far less effective that year, and all years, throwing out of formations with multiple tight ends, “12” (one back, two tight ends) and “13” (one back, three tight ends) personnel. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski loves formations with multiple tight ends, to balance runs and passes.

So does Shane Waldron, the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator and play caller.

Carroll and Schneider got Waldron two top tight ends to use at the same time in 2022. The Seahawks added former first-round pick Noah Fant from Denver in the Wilson trade. They love him so much in April they guaranteed the 24-year-old tight end more than $9 million for this year and next by picking up his fifth-year contract option for 2023. They did that before he’d even practiced or moved into the locker room yet in Seattle.

In March, the Seahawks invested $24 million over three years to re-sign Will Dissly to be their second tight end with Fant. That was more than most expected Seattle to spend to keep Dissly from leaving in free agency, particularly because the Seahawks had added Fant only a week before they re-signed Dissly.

Throughout offseason practices this spring, Waldron had Fant and Dissly together in 12-personnel formations in front of running back Rashaad Penny. The Seahawks were also using Colby Parkinson, their 6-foot-7 tight end beset by injuries his first two NFL seasons, with Fant and Dissly in 13 personnel.

It looked a lot like the offense’s Waldron helped coordinate and the tight ends he used to coach with the Los Angeles Rams, before Carroll hired him to run Seattle’s offense last year.

And it looks a lot like the 2022 Seahawks are going to be using many multiple-tight end formations — the sets in which Mayfield has not played well in Cleveland.

Then there’s the issue of timing

Cleveland signed Deshaun Watson from Houston for a record $230 million guaranteed to be its quarterback, even while he’s been facing 24 lawsuits from women alleging him of sexual misconduct.

That’s why the Browns didn’t need Mayfield anymore.

But trading for a veteran to enter a competition at quarterback makes a lot more sense in March than it does in July and August. The reason Smith has so far been ahead of Lock in Seattle’s QB derby is familiarity; Smith was Wilson’s backup the last three Seahawks seasons.

Carroll said at the end of offseason practices last month Lock had rapidly closed that familiarity gap in spring workouts, and that he will caught up to Smith in that regard by early in training camp.

Not trading for and waiting for the Browns to release Mayfield to potentially get him at Seattle’s price, not Cleveland’s, exhausted that offseason acclimation time. It’s now two weeks of training camp before three preseason games then the time to settle on a starting quarterback will be upon the Seahawks.

They weren’t going to pay $5 million for Mayfield to be behind Lock and Smith in the offense when training camp begins July 27. Just above the veteran minimum of a million or so as a street free agent after getting waived? Maybe.

So it will stay as it’s been since the draft ended without Seattle taking a quarterback in April: the Seahawks will roll with Lock or Smith for 2022, knowing they are in the position to add big at QB at low, rookie-contract cost in the draft next spring.

“Man, they’ve been impressive. They’ve been really impressive,” Carroll said of Lock and Smith through offseason practices. “And it’s not been any one sequence here, or one day here, they have just been solid throughout.

“Geno’s still ahead, you can tell that. But it’s not going to be too much for Drew to be caught up. By the time we get through camp, he’ll be there. …

“The competition is in great shape and ... it’s good for us. We didn’t hesitate to do anything. We can do everything we’ve done in the years past, so we’re off and flying.

“Here we go.”

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