NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Commanders
USATSI

With just over three weeks until the start of the 2022 NFL season, the Panthers have declared a winner of their offseason quarterback competition, on Monday officially naming Baker Mayfield their starter for Week 1. Acquired via trade in July, Mayfield battled fellow former first-round pick Sam Darnold for Carolina's top job. Now, the former Browns signal-caller is set to face his old team when Carolina hosts Cleveland to kick off the new year on Sept. 11.

"When we started this process, we were looking at three things," Panthers coach Matt Rhule said in a team statement. "Number one, mastery of the offense; number two, situational football excellence; and number three, moving the ball and getting guys involved. That's been our focus all along. Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time."

Neither Mayfield nor Darnold have gotten extensive action in the preseason, with both QBs sitting out Friday's loss to the Patriots and combining for just 10 throws in Carolina's opener against the Commanders. But the two veterans spent all summer competing on the practice field, with Rhule splitting first-team reps between Mayfield and Darnold to open training camp.

"All along, we've felt like we need to have a really strong quarterback room, and have every quarterback ready to play," Rhule said Monday. "The reality of this league is most teams will play multiple quarterbacks. Sam has worked incredibly hard, played really well for us during training camp, and will be ready to go if and when it's needed."

The Panthers forecast Darnold's demotion when they traded a conditional fifth-round pick for Mayfield in early July. While Darnold will cost Carolina more in 2022 after the Browns absorbed the majority of Mayfield's deal to unload their former starter, Mayfield is the more accomplished NFL QB, two years removed from an 11-5 finish and playoff run with Cleveland. Darnold struggled when healthy in 2021, after arriving via trade from the Jets, before the Panthers reunited with Cam Newton for an emergency change of plans at QB.

P.J. Walker, who's spent the last two seasons as a reserve, is tentatively expected to serve as the Panthers' No. 3 QB after rookie third-rounder suffered a potentially season-ending Lisfranc injury in the preseason.