CHARLOTTE — Jake Delhomme is like many people watching the Panthers right now.
He's not exactly sure how this is all going to work out, but he's excited to see the work.
While Delhomme was enthusiastic about the addition of quarterback Baker Mayfield in a trade with the Browns Wednesday (especially at the price), he also genuinely believes the improvements the team made this offseason would have helped Sam Darnold too, so he's eager to see the competition shake out. (The deal is still pending Mayfield's physical, and might not be official for a bit.)
"Let's go," Delhomme said. "These two are going to get on the field and compete, and may the best man win."
The Hall of Honor quarterback and analyst for the Panthers Radio Network was generally positive about the possibilities Mayfield brings to the offense.
"The biggest thing with Baker when you watch him is how accurate he is with the ball," Delhomme said. "And when he cuts it loose, he's got some thump on the ball.
"And to get that for what, a fifth-round pick in two years and it doesn't cost that much money, that's a no-brainer."
In his best season (2020), Mayfield completed 62.8 percent of his passes, with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His numbers fell off last year as he struggled with a left shoulder injury, but he has a career completion percentage of 61.6.
He's also shown he can make big throws in big moments, leading the Browns to the playoffs, and throwing a dramatic deep touchdown to a well-covered Jarvis Landry against the Panthers in 2018.
"I mean, Baker's got that moxie," Delhomme said. "I love the competitive fire he's shown out there, and I think Carolina can benefit from that."
The team's not declaring anyone the starter at the moment, and Delhomme said it would be interesting to see how Darnold responds in camp, after having a full offseason to absorb new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense. Darnold's the more athletic and bigger of the two, and he also has a four-month head start.
"I think a lot of people have already written the story on Sam, and this is not me being an apologist; I just think there are some positives there," Delhomme said. "They improved things around the quarterback this offseason, so it's a better chance for him to look good than he's had, honestly.
"He didn't play well enough last year and he knows that, but he has some talent; now we'll know, now we'll get to see what it looks like."
One thing Delhomme isn't worried about is a competitive environment, and that's based on his own experiences here. When he came to the Panthers in 2003 as a free agent, veteran Rodney Peete was the incumbent starter, and went into the regular season with that job. But at halftime of the opener, Delhomme replaced him, led a comeback win against the Jaguars, and then was part of an unexpected Super Bowl run.
Delhomme said Peete was "awesome" for him during their camp competition. At the time, they'd break training camp segments of 20 plays equally, so each of the quarterbacks (along with Chris Weinke and Randy Fasani) would get five snaps each. The situation was a little different then, as Delhomme was still trying to prove he could be a starter, while Peete was in the "riding off into the sunset" phase in his career. But Peete had experience in then-coordinator Dan Henning's system, so Delhomme knew it wasn't a sure thing.
"For me, it was about getting reps," Delhomme said. "I felt like as training camp went on and I got more work, I could feel it moving in my direction, just because I was getting more comfortable.
"But Rodney had won seven games the year before, and no one thought that was happening a year after they went 1-15, so he had shown what he could do physically, and the intangibles were off the chart."
Peete continued to support Delhomme once he took over, with one notable exception.
When the Panthers played the Buccaneers in November that season, Delhomme was running out of bounds (and now it's safe to admit this), when he tried to draw a penalty against Hall of Fame safety John Lynch. "I was trying to steal a cheap 15," Delhomme said with a laugh. Lynch didn't find it amusing at the time, and made it clear to Delhomme in very descriptive and colorful language that he would not forget and that payback was coming. As was customary with the Panthers and the Bucs at the time, there was some "yapping" going on among many players on the field, with Peete exchanging some words with Lynch as well.
"When I finally got back to the sidelines, Rodney was there," Delhomme recalled with a laugh. "And he said 'You better slide your ass a little earlier next time, because I am not going in that game.'"
Otherwise, Delhomme said there was never a problem in having to fight for the starting job when he came here, and he thinks camp will be an exciting time for Mayfield as well. Delhomme had his own cameo in Cleveland (starting four games for the Browns in 2010), so he knows something of the pressure that comes with playing there.
"The guy has done it at a high level, he won a playoff game in Cleveland, and that's huge," Delhomme said. "You could tell he was hurting last year, and it sucks when you're not 100 percent, and things aren't going well. But he battled through.
"Now he's coming here, and I think a fresh start is going to do a tremendous amount of good for him."
Mayfield played for Cleveland from 2018-21, leading the Browns to a playoff appearance in 2020.