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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Baker Mayfield: I Got to Pick Stability

Baker Mayfield wanted a chance to compete for a starting job in his fourth NFL home, but he also wanted one that would get him back on steady ground after a nomadic 2022…He found both in Tampa


Baker Mayfield played for three teams in the first five seasons of his NFL career. The first one drafted him, the second one traded for him and the third one claimed him off waivers. He's far from the first player for whom this is true, but Mayfield didn't really have any personal agency in his first three destinations.

Things were different in 2023.

Mayfield spent four seasons in Cleveland with the team that drafted him first overall in 2018. In the summer of 2022, after the Browns had swung a massive trade for former Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, Mayfield was swapped to the Carolina Panthers. He made six starts for Carolina before being waived in early December and claimed by the Los Angeles Rams.

Mayfield had some nice moments after joining the Rams, even winning an NFC Offensive Player of the Week following his debut. But that offense was going to be back in the hands of Matthew Stafford in 2023 and Mayfield was set to become a free agent for the first time. He had an opportunity to find a team for which he could battle for the starting job. He did that by signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was motivated not just by that chance to start but perhaps just as much by an opportunity to rediscover some of the steady ground he had lost.

"Obviously, free agency allowed me to pick the organizational stability and knowing what it is here," said Mayfield. "That's what you look for when you have an opportunity to choose. You look for that and then you do the best you can and make the most of it. Right now, I'm just trying to take it one game at a time, like I've mentioned the past few weeks, and just see where it goes."

View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 16 matchup vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars

Mayfield has spoken before about the Bucs' organizational stability, generally in a big-picture manner. Long-running leaders in key football positions, in-house roster development, player retention, annual contention and a focus on winning. In 2023, he and the Bucs' offense has also enjoyed stability on the field, which has allowed it to develop and begin to peak at the right time. Mayfield has started every game, as have four of his five offensive linemen. The same is true for wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwins, running back Rachaad White and tight end Cade Otton.

"Everybody has come together and that's what we've had to do as a team to be able to put these four games in a row," said Mayfield. "We've had a lot of leaders step up, a lot of guys step up and that's what you really look for."

Mayfield has a 110.6 passer rating over the course of the Bucs' four-game winning streak, and is at 96.2 overall, which is good for ninth in the NFL. Statistically, he is essentially putting together the best season of his career. He's been confident since Week One – that's pretty much a defining character of any successful quarterback – but he's become increasingly more comfortable in Dave Canales' system, and it is showing.

"I feel good," said Mayfield. "Yeah, I feel really good about where I'm at, seeing the field. Obviously, playing quarterback, each rep you can take things away from it…continuing to learn and improve on it. So yeah, I think just being in the system for a bit now and getting comfortable with it, that's what happens. Once you get comfortable in the system, you can truly grow and see the improvements and I think that's where we're at right now."

Because Mayfield found – well, chose – stability after a nomadic 2022, he put himself in a position to get his career arc pointed upward again. It has been such a successful pairing between Mayfield and the Buccaneers that he is now considered one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2023 season, to the point that he has entered the discussion for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award.

"It's humbling," said Mayfield of being considered for that award, which last year went to another resurgent quarterback who had a career year, Seattle's Geno Smith. "It's an honor. It's kind of a big-picture mindset – if I take a step back and really look at it – of all the things that I've had to weather in the last year. It really speaks volumes to this place right here. To be able to come in and be myself and be the best version of myself, they've allowed me to do that. That's been the best reason."

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