Myles Garrett's first task of the 2022 season is simple: Hunt his former teammate.
Baker Mayfield is officially the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback to open the 2022 season. His first regular-season game comes against a team he knows better than any other in the NFL -- the Cleveland Browns -- meaning Garrett will be lined up with his crosshairs trained on the signal-caller he once knew only as an ally.
It's a storyline that will only become more prevalent as we approach kickoff weekend. Garrett isn't getting caught up in the hype, however.
"He's my former teammate, but there's no rivalry there between me and him and there's no rivalry there between the Panthers and the Browns," Garrett said of Mayfield on Tuesday. "Yes, he was here, but that doesn't mean I have an added sense of urgency to get to him. I want to play my best, and whatever's in the cards that's what's in for me. But if I can help my team win, if I can put them in the best position to win, I'm going to do that.
"And if I can get a couple of sacks along the way, I'd enjoy that, too."
Garrett has become known as a player who is highly confident in his abilities, annually setting his sights on the Defensive Player of the Year award, but he's yet to reach that height. That hasn't diminished his reputation, though; Garrett remains among the league's elite defensive ends whom every opponent must account for on a weekly basis.
Garrett will undoubtedly stand as a central focus of Carolina's Week 1 game plan. As always, he can count on receiving plenty of attention when it comes to pass blocking. And he'll attempt to fight through multiple points of resistance to pressure Mayfield, the quarterback who endeared himself to Browns fans around the globe for helping the team to its first playoff appearance since 2002 and first postseason victory since the 1994 season.
Mayfield, meanwhile, has remained quiet on the matter. The QB has adopted a diplomatic tone since being traded to Carolina, avoiding criticism of Cleveland after the franchise cast him aside in favor of Deshaun Watson. But eventually, he'll have to comment on the reality that awaits him.
As soon as Carolina and Cleveland agreed to the trade that sent him to the Panthers in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick, the table was set for the football world to turn its collective eyes toward Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 11. Mayfield has a fantastic opportunity to earn some immediate revenge for the way the Browns parted with him. It's a tailor-made, juicy storyline to start the 2022 regular season.
And if Mayfield's Panthers come away with the win, it'll be a little sweeter for the quarterback Cleveland once selected with the first-overall pick of the 2018 draft. Even if he downplays the significance of the season opener, it will be up to Garrett and Co. to prevent such an outcome.
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