The Browns are signing guard Joel Bitonio to a “monster” extension, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Bitonio doesn’t turn 26 until October and he is among the league’s most talented interior linemen when healthy.
Schefter reports Bitonio’s deal is for five years and worth $51MM (Twitter link), meaning the NFL now has four guards who make $10MM per year. That list is expected to expand soon once Kevin Zeitler makes a decision on his landing spot. Bitonio’s contract will include $23MM in guaranteed money. The 25-year-old Bitonio will join Kelechi Osemele, Kyle Long and David DeCastro in the eight-figure-AAV guard club.
Last year, Bitonio appeared in only five games due to injury. In the year prior, he played in only 10 contests. However, in his rookie year, he was present for all 16 games and finished out with a strong 87.8 overall score on Pro Football Focus. This year, that mark would have placed him in the top five amongst all guards, ahead of Osemele, Richie Incognito, Zeitler, T.J. Lang, DeCastro, and other notables.
Bitonio helped the Browns compensate for the departures of standout free agents Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack last season, and although Cleveland went 1-15, its offensive front wasn’t devoid of talent. The Browns over the past several years have been able to develop quality blockers, and they’ve decided to invest in Bitonio to team with Joe Thomas in his NFL twilight years. The former second-round pick had one year left on his rookie contract.
This could impact the Browns’ pursuit of Zeitler, although they could use both at guard and could afford each. Veteran John Greco started at right guard last season, but he also ventured to IR to end the 2016 slate. Cleveland and New Orleans are believed to be the Zeitler finalists.
Sam Robinson contributed to this report.
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