Baker Mayfield's next stop in his increasingly winding NFL career will be in Tampa Bay, where he'll be asked to succeed a legend and keep the Buccaneers competitive.
The latter is what was paramount to Mayfield during his free agency.
"It was important to me to be in a place that's stable and knows how to win and how to do it properly," Mayfield told reporters at his introductory news conference on Monday. "I want to go somewhere that we can win right away, and this is that place."
In order to complete this task, Mayfield will have to be better than he was for most of the last two seasons, a period in which his performance diminished amid injuries and turmoil in Cleveland, and never truly got off the ground in Carolina before he was waived during the 2022 season.
He did enjoy a resurgence, at least within the final month of his 2022 campaign, spent taking starting reps with the already-eliminated Rams. Mayfield completed 63.6% of his passes for 850 yards and a 4-2 TD-INT ratio in his final four games of the year, posting a 1-3 record. His one win came in legendary, almost unfathomable fashion in which he led the Rams to a stunning comeback win less than 48 hours after joining the team.
"It was a whirlwind, I will say that," Mayfield said of his month with Sean McVay's squad. "Definitely not how I drew it up. It taught me just to roll with the punches, to be patient. And I was having fun playing ball again -- I will say that -- they made it fun. Obviously, the situation I stepped into, they were already eliminated from the playoffs, so there was really nothing to lose; let's just go play ball, have fun, enjoy it, and getting to know my teammates on quick notice was enjoyable. We will share those memories for a lifetime."
That type of performance showcased Mayfield's best qualities: resilience, composure and an innate ability to win, even when the odds are stacked against him. They're precisely what led former Browns general manager John Dorsey to spend the No. 1 pick on him in the 2018 NFL Draft, and what endeared him to Cleveland prior to his slide and unceremonious departure.
He'll need those same skills -- and to avoid trying to become a Tom Brady clone -- to prove to Buccaneers fans he's worthy of the team's starting job in 2023.
"I'm not Tom. I'm not going to try and be Tom," Mayfield said during a Monday appearance on NFL Now. "He's the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and he deserves that recognition. I'm going to be myself and Tom was himself. I think all the greats try and do it their own way. So I respect everything he did and obviously people around here worked with him, so I'm going to try and pick their brain about how he did it, how he operated in certain things that were the difference-makers in who he is. I'm excited about it. Those are big shoes to fill, but I'm just going to try and wear my own."
Mayfield has been through a lot in the last year and a half, but believes he's better for it. Now, he'll join a squad that returns a couple of top-tier receiving talents in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and hope to work toward winning with them in 2023. It just might earn Mayfield an even better opportunity in Tampa -- or elsewhere -- in 2024.
"They've historically had success and, obviously, in recent years as well," Mayfield said. "I want to come in and compete and be able to showcase my talents for the next chapter of my career. I think everything happens for a reason, so I'm excited to see where this journey goes."