While the Browns opening substantive extension talks with Baker Mayfield before year’s end remains in play, they are not rushing the process with their 2018 first-round picks. Neither Mayfield nor Denzel Ward are signed long-term, despite the latter having begun talks this summer.
But the Browns are planning to extend Ward, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes, who adds the team does not view this as an urgent matter. This points to a Ward deal being likelier in 2022 than by season’s end. Ward is signed through 2022, with the Browns having picked up his $13.3MM fifth-year option in May.
The Browns were discussing a Ward deal in August, but they understandably opted to lock down contract-year starters Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller first. Cleveland extended Joel Bitonio as well last week, moving to reward its Pro Bowl guard after taking care of his younger O-line mate. Ward and Mayfield represent the next dominoes here. It is certainly not uncommon for teams to slow-play extensions for non-quarterback first-round picks. Of the 2018 first-rounders, only Josh Allen has signed an extension.
A Cleveland-area native, Ward has become one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. He leads a Browns corner corps that features another first-round pick (Greg Newsome), an ex-second-rounder (Greedy Williams) and free agent acquisition Troy Hill. Pro Football Focus ranks Ward as the No. 5 overall corner through Week 10. The Ohio State product has run into injury trouble throughout his career. Ward has missed 12 career games, due to injuries and COVID-19, though he has been on the field for nine of Cleveland’s 10 contests this season.
Ward, 24, has displayed steadier work than Mayfield and has a clear path toward a top-market contract. Ex-Ward Ohio State teammate Marshon Lattimore becoming the third $19MM-per-year corner provides a better marker for the younger ex-Buckeye’s eventual extension. Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey and Jalen Ramsey have moved the bar past $19MM over the past year and change, helping this position break through after its market did not move much for several years.
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