Baker Mayfield’s wild journey to the Rams

Baker Mayfield’s wild 48-hour journey that concluded with him leading the Los Angeles Rams to a comeback win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14’s first game wasn’t just impressive – it was also prophetic.

Soon after he asked for and was granted a release from the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 5, Mayfield told NBC Sports’ Peter King that he purchased a plane ticket that would leave Charlotte at 4:48 pm ET on Tuesday for Los Angeles. Mayfield allegedly did this before he knew the Rams would claim him off waivers even though there were three other teams ahead of Los Angeles – the Houston Texas, the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos.

So, just in case Mayfield and his agent’s hunch was wrong, Mayfield said he bought flight insurance.

“You checked the box for the flight insurance,” King asked, “so you could get the refund if you don’t take the trip?”

“I did,” Mayfield said. “I honestly was just waiting in the airport for a phone call, hoping and praying the call was from a Los Angeles number.”

At 4:10 pm – 38 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave Charlotte Douglas International Airport – Rams general manager Les Snead called Mayfield to tell him he’d been claimed. Soon after, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Mayfield had “a shot” to play Thursday night after the Rams attempted to send him a condensed playbook to study on the flight. Problem was, Mayfield wasn’t able to download the file until after he landed in Los Angeles because of the plane’s Wi-Fi.

“Plane Wi-Fi was not friendly on that one,” Mayfield told King, “so I was pretty stressed out.”

Mayfield’s crash course in the Rams’ offense

Starting Tuesday night and over the next two days, Mayfield learned enough of the playbook not only to suit up for the Rams but to take over as the starting quarterback by Los Angeles’ second series. But he didn’t have much time.

Rams head coach Sean McVay said after the game that Mayfield only got one practice with the team and two 10-play team drills. Mayfield reportedly leaned on his coaches and teammates to fill in any gaps he had between his arrival Tuesday night and the game on Thursday.

It helped that the Rams used similar protection packages as Cleveland Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who worked with Mayfield in Cleveland and with McVay when both worked in Washington. Mayfield and McVay also developed a report during the pre-draft process in 2018. The two talked extensively on a flight from Los Angeles to Indianapolis about the offensive concepts Mayfield ran under then-Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley in college.

After all that, McVay said after the game that he felt comfortable enough with Mayfield’s grasp of the offense to let him go out and play.

“I’ve felt good about his ability to come in and do some of the things that we were asking because I’ve seen him do it previously, but you never know,” McVay said, per ESPN. “…But I think he plays fast. You could see, when he sees things, he can speed it up.

Mayfield stumbled a bit when he came in: Though he completed 3-of-6 passes for 65 yards in the first half, Mayfield went just 1-for-6 for five yards in the Rams’ first two second-half possessions. But thanks to a few mistakes by the Raiders, Mayfield led the Rams on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter – the final being a 98-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Van Jefferson.

“I was really impressed,” McVay said. “I don’t know if I would say surprised, because I’ve always been a fan of the things that he was capable of, but to say that I expected this, certainly exceeded our expectations. But it was a lot of fun watching him go to work tonight.”

What comes next for Mayfield, Rams

Mayfield did enough in his debut to earn the starting job for the Rams for the rest of the season, McVay confirmed to reporters Friday. That all makes sense given Matthew Stafford is on injured reserve with a neck injury and backups John Wolford (who is also injured) and Bryce Perkins have combined to go 1-3 with 551 total passing yards, two passing touchdowns and five interceptions on 96 passing attempts.

But after those four games are over? Who knows. Mayfield will be a free agent this offseason and the Rams signed Stafford to a four-year $160 million deal with $135 in guaranteed money nine months ago – meaning he isn’t going anywhere. Mayfield could return as a backup for Stafford in 2023, but that might not be something he would even want. Especially if other opportunities present themselves this offseason.

Mayfield’s return to the spotlight is fun and certainly a great story. It’s just unclear how long that will last given his and the Rams’ respective futures.

Baker Mayfield’s journey will only get more uncertain from here. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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