TAMPA, Fla. — Speaking for the first time since signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent, former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and first overall draft pick Baker Mayfield acknowledged Monday that his confidence took a hit after bouncing from three different teams in 2022.
“That’s definitely been a struggle,” said Mayfield, who signed with the Buccaneers on a one-year deal to compete for the starting quarterback job with Kyle Trask following the retirement of Tom Brady.
“There were times where, kind of searching in the mirror thinking, ‘All right. What’s next? What do I need to do?’ But you’ve got to relate it back to your success. If I can review all the situations and experiences I’ve had and trust in those, and learn from them and not just harp on the negative stuff but take away just a little thing each time, that’s how you continue to grow. And I still believe that all the experiences I’ve gone through happened for a reason, and it’s going to help me in the long run.”
After four seasons with the Cleveland Browns and following the arrival of Deshaun Watson, Mayfield was traded to the Carolina Panthers in July 2022. He was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Rams in December 2022 and starting a mere 48 hours later, leading the Rams back from a 16-3 deficit to a 17-16 victory.
“It’s not how I drew my career up by any means,” he said. “If I was to tell you how it would go based on the plan, I wouldn’t have said I’d put on three different uniforms in the year 2022, but that’s how it happens. You’ve got to learn from it, roll with the punches, trust in God’s plan. But I’ve grown a lot. I appreciate all the things that have happened throughout my journey. It’s helped me get here today. I want to play this as long as I can so I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way.”
He called the experience “different,” but said he realized there were ways he could affect teams in a positive way even when not starting. In Tampa — a city he admits knowing very little about prior to signing, other than it being home to the three-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning — he was not promised the No. 1 job. He’s still seeking long-term deal.
But Mayfield said he wanted to compete, likes Trask’s game and thought they could push each other. Mayfield also wanted to be part of a stable organization with a winning culture and playmakers. Tampa Bay has two Pro Bowl 1,000-yard receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and an aggressive defense under head coach Todd Bowles that Mayfield had competed against before.
So he’s “diving in headfirst,” as he put it. He’ll be all-in with OTAs and learning new offensive coordinator Dave Canales’ playbook, which has a few similarities to what Mayfield ran with the Rams, all while getting his wife, Emily, and Fergus, their 80-pound Goldendoodle-Irish setter rescue puppy, settled. And later, between June and July, he’d like to assemble teammates to work out independently away from the team.
“The thing I’ve realized the most in the last year, it is how can I help with what I’m best at?” Mayfield said. “And that’s, that’s being a good leader, being infectious, energetic, even when I’m not playing, helping guys out, you know, I’ve played a lot of ball, so I’ve seen a decent amount so I can help people out from being behind the scenes like I did last year quite a bit, and just enjoying the process. This is a dream I’m living. Why not enjoy it? But right now I want to compete and I want to win.”
When asked about concerns over how he might respond if he doesn’t win the starting job, Mayfield said, “Just take a look at last year. I really don’t have much to say other than that. I mean, everybody wants to talk about years ago, how I used to be. If you haven’t realized that I’ve changed a lot, then … that’s all right.”
“My personality might rub people the wrong way, but I am who I am and that’s how I was raised to be. I’m not trying to play to be your friend or to impress you. I’m doing it because I love it and I’m doing it because I love my teammates. And I think all my teammates would say that behind closed doors, [they] knew who I really am and that’s what really matters, my family and I trust in that. So it is what it is. I’m not too worried about the outside persona.”
Mayfield did ask for his release from the Panthers after learning that he would be demoted to third-string quarterback in Week 12 against the Denver Broncos. That was after going 1-5 as a starter in Carolina. Former coach Steve Wilks said, however, that Mayfield was “nothing but a professional.” Wilks said he had no issues with the way the quarterback and his agent handled the situation.
Then there’s the obvious question. Should Mayfield win the starting job, how does he follow up Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion who led the Bucs to the postseason three consecutive years and delivered a Lombardi Trophy to cap the 2020 campaign?
“Listen, I’m never going to be Tom Brady,” Mayfield said. “There’s a reason he’s won so many Super Bowls. He’s the greatest of all time. There’s no doubt about that. I’m not going to try to be Tom. I’m going to be me. That’s what has gotten me to this point. We’re going to do it differently, but that’s what makes this league so special. Everybody puts their own touch on it.”