Denzel Ward

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/13/22

Today’s updates for the reserve/COVID-19 and practice squad/COVID-19 lists:

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Jacksonville Jaguars

New Orleans Saints

Pittsburgh Steelers

Washington Football Team

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/8/22

Today’s updates for the reserve/COVID-19 and practice squad/COVID-19 lists:

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Detroit Lions

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Washington Football Team

Browns Eyeing 2022 Denzel Ward Extension

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.

Latest On Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward

We heard at the end of June that the Browns were “working on” an extension for cornerback Denzel Ward, and it sounds like that has become the top item on the team’s agenda. According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (via Twitter), Cleveland and Ward are actively discussing a new deal now that RB Nick Chubb has put pen to paper on an extension of his own

Ward, a 2018 first-round choice, saw his fifth-year option for 2022 exercised earlier this year, so player and team do have some time to hash things out. Of course, the Browns have Ward’s draftmate, quarterback Baker Mayfield, looking for a new contract as well, and it sounds as if Cleveland is at least trying to get everything else off its plate before digging in on the inherently more complex QB negotiations.

Indeed, Fowler adds that talks with Mayfield have not yet heated up. As soon as Josh Allen signed his mega-deal with the Bills, the NFL world turned its attention to Mayfield and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, but Cleveland GM Andrew Berry downplayed the impact that Allen’s contract would have on Mayfield’s situation.

I think for really any player or any positional market, we’re always aware of the deals that have been done over the past couple years and certainly any deals that come up over the next couple weeks because we realize that impacts the market to some degree,” Berry said (via Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz of the Akron Beacon Journal). “But at the same time with any player that we’re considering extending, we really deal with it on a case-by-case and individual level. We really operate within the parameters that we think make sense for our organization and our team, and that’s what we’ll continue to do really across positions.”

That’s generally what one would expect a GM to say, but we also heard back in June that, if Allen and Jackson landed contracts paying them north of $40MM per year — and now that Allen is sitting at a $43MM AAV, Jackson will certainly get something in that neighborhood — Mayfield would not “settle” for a yearly rate of $35MM (his current market value per Spotrac). So once the Browns open Mayfield negotiations in earnest, it will be interesting to see how much of a gap there is between the two sides.

Ward, meanwhile, currently has a market value of $18.5MM per year, which would position him near the top of the league’s CBs. Despite being forced into more zone coverage than he probably would have liked in 2020, Ward finished as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd-best corner out of 121 qualifiers. Though he has missed at least three games due to injury in each of his first three professional seasons, his performance between the lines has been everything the Browns could have hoped for. He earned Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season, and he has tallied 40 passes defensed and seven interceptions — including one pick-six — in his young career.

Given the value of top-flight boundary corners, expect Berry to make a strong push to get a deal finalized. It’s presently unclear where things stand with guard Wyatt Teller, yet another extension candidate.

Browns, Baker Mayfield Have Not Exchanged Proposals

Baker Mayfield‘s agent, Jack Mills, recently predicted that his client and the Browns would agree to terms on a contract extension this summer. But that might be a bit optimistic. According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Mayfield’s camp and the Browns have not even exchanged proposals yet, and she suggests that a new deal might not get done until late October.

Why then? Because at the start of the 2020 season, for which there were no spring workouts and no preseason, Mayfield was still getting used to head coach Kevin Stefanski‘s offense. But as Cabot observes, Mayfield was Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-rated QB over the final seven games of the year, and both player and team believe that is more representative of who Mayfield is (even though he did have some quality performances over the first few weeks of the campaign as well). By waiting until the end of October to authorize a massive extension, the Browns will essentially have a full season of data on how Mayfield performs in a quality offense that he completely understands.

The Browns are also working on new contracts for other key members of the roster, like CB Denzel Ward, RB Nick Chubb, and G Wyatt Teller (this is the first we have publicly heard that the club is talking contract with Teller and Ward, though it’s hardly a surprise). The front office might want to get those less costly pacts out of the way before turning its full attention to the Mayfield situation.

And Mayfield, who is perfectly content to bet on himself, also has reason to wait. If draftmates Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson sign extensions with AAVs in excess of $40MM, Cabot says Mayfield will not “settle” for a $35MM AAV, which Spotrac currently considers to be his market value.

At this point, Cleveland and Mayfield have no doubt that a deal will get done. It’s really just a matter of when.

2022 NFL Fifth-Year Option Tracker

NFL teams have until May 3 to officially pick up their options on 2018 first-rounders who are entering the final year of their rookie deals. In a change from years past, fifth-year option seasons are fully guaranteed, rather than guaranteed for injury only. Meanwhile, salaries are now determined by a blend of the player’s position, initial draft placement, and specific performance metrics:

  • 2-time Pro Bowlers (excluding alternate Pro Bowlers) will earn the same as their position’s franchise tag.
  • 1-time Pro Bowlers will earn the equivalent of the transition tag.
  • Players who achieve any of the following will get the average of the 3rd-20th highest salaries at their position:
    • 75%+ snaps in two of their first three seasons
    • 75%+ average across all three seasons
    • 50%+ in each of first three seasons
  • Players who do not hit any of those benchmarks will get the average of the 3rd-25th top salaries at their position.

With the deadline looming, we’ll use the space below to track all the option decisions from around the league:

Updated 4-30-21, 4:24pm CT

  1. QB Baker Mayfield, Browns: Exercised ($18.858MM)
  2. RB Saquon Barkley, Giants: Exercised ($7.217MM)
  3. QB Sam Darnold, Panthers (via Jets): Pending ($18.858MM)
  4. CB Denzel Ward, Browns — Exercised ($13.294MM)
  5. LB Bradley Chubb, Broncos — Pending ($12.716MM)
  6. G Quenton Nelson, Colts — Pending ($13.754MM)
  7. QB Josh Allen, Bills: Pending ($23.106MM)
  8. LB Roquan Smith, Bears: Exercised ($9.735MM)
  9. OT Mike McGlinchey, 49ers: Exercised ($10.88MM)
  10. QB Josh Rosen, Cardinals: N/A
  11. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers (via Dolphins): Exercised ($10.612MM)
  12. DT Vita Vea, Buccaneers: Exercised ($7.638MM)
  13. DT Daron Payne, Washington — Exercised ($8.529MM)
  14. DE Marcus Davenport, Saints: Exercised ($9.553MM)
  15. OT Kolton Miller, Raiders — N/A (extension)
  16. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Bills: Pending ($12.716MM)
  17. S Derwin James, Chargers: Exercised ($9.052MM)
  18. CB Jaire Alexander, Packers: Exercised ($13.294MM)
  19. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys: Pending ($9.145MM)
  20. C Frank Ragnow, Lions: Exercised ($12.657MM)
  21. C Billy Price, Bengals: Declined ($10.413MM)
  22. LB Rashaan Evans, Titans: Pending ($9.735MM)
  23. OT Isaiah Wynn, Patriots: Pending ($10.413 MM)
  24. WR D.J. Moore, Panthers: Exercised ($11.116MM)
  25. TE Hayden Hurst, Falcons (via Ravens): Pending ($5.428MM)
  26. WR Calvin Ridley, Falcons: Pending ($11.116MM)
  27. RB Rashaad Penny, Seahawks: Pending ($4.523MM)
  28. S Terrell Edmunds, Steelers: Pending ($6.753MM)
  29. DT Taven Bryan, Jaguars: Pending ($7.638MM)
  30. CB Mike Hughes, Vikings: Pending ($12.643MM)
  31. RB Sony Michel, Patriots: Pending ($4.523MM)
  32. QB Lamar Jackson, Ravens: Exercised ($23.106MM)

Browns Exercise Options For Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward

The Browns will pick up the fifth-year options of quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward (Twitter links via Jake Trotter of ESPN.com and Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer). 

Mayfield will make $18.858MM in 2022 while Ward will earn $13.294MM. As a refresher, the fifth-year option year is now fully guaranteed. In the past, it was guaranteed for injury only. The values are also dependent on certain performance metrics, including playing time and Pro Bowl appearances.

Mayfield slogged through a brutal 2019 season, throwing 21 interceptions — the NFL’s second-most that year — and regressing after showing promise under Freddie Kitchens in 2018. However, Mayfield fared much better in Kevin Stefanski‘s offense last season. The former Heisman winner ranked 10th in QBR with a 72.2 mark — by far a career-high figure — and cut his interception total down to eight.

Ward, meanwhile, has battled health issues since he entered the league. He has missed at least three games due to injury in each of his first three seasons — not 2020’s COVID-19 absence. On the other hand, his performance between the lines has been everything the Browns could have hoped for when they made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2018. He earned Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season, and despite the missed time due to injury, he has tallied 40 passes defensed and seven interceptions — including one pick-six — in his young career.

Extension Candidate: Denzel Ward

The Browns returned to the playoffs in 2020 after a 17-year absence, and their top two picks of the 2018 draft — QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward — played pivotal roles in the team’s success. Under the youthful leadership of general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland has the opportunity to be a competitive outfit for the foreseeable future.

But success in the draft and on the field generally leads to big-money extensions for a team’s homegrown talent, and the decision as to whether to authorize such extensions is not always a straightforward one. For instance, although Mayfield bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2019 campaign and posted a top-10 QBR of 72.2 last season, the Browns may make him prove himself again in 2021 before getting serious about extension talks.

Ward, meanwhile, has battled health issues since he entered the league. He has missed at least three games due to injury in each of his first three professional seasons — we’re not counting the games he missed last year due to COVID-19 — and when considering the price tag for top cornerbacks, even “minor” injuries become significant.

On the other hand, his performance between the lines has been everything the Browns could have hoped for when they made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2018. He earned Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season, and despite the missed time due to injury, he has tallied 40 passes defensed and seven interceptions — including one pick-six — in his young career.

Cleveland’s secondary as a whole was hit hard by injury (and the pandemic) last year. In addition to Ward’s ailments, rookie safety Grant Delpit and second-year CB Greedy Williams missed the entire season, and CB Kevin Johnson also missed time. That meant that DC Joe Woods was forced to run zone coverage schemes for the most part, and Ward’s skill-set is probably better-suited to man coverage.

Still, Ward finished as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd-best corner out of 121 qualifiers, and PFF gave him a strong coverage grade. The team added former Rams DBs John Johnson and Troy Hill in free agency this offseason, which should give Woods a little more flexibility and which should, in turn, have a positive trickle-down effect on Ward. But while Hill has experience playing on the boundaries, the Browns may prefer to deploy him in the slot, and it’s still unclear what the team has in Williams at this point. So other than Ward, there are no certainties in terms of outside-the-numbers CBs, and even if there were, it would be hard to imagine Berry & Co. letting a premium talent at a premium position get away.

Of course, a new contract will be costly. The $20MM average annual value that Jalen Ramsey recently pulled down from the Rams is the current pacesetter for the CB market, and while Ward might not be able to hit that number at this point, he certainly has an argument for at least an $18MM AAV. A five-year pact worth between $90MM-$95MM and around $40MM or so in full guarantees sounds about right if the two sides are to come to terms anytime soon.

For now, there have been no reports of extension talks. The Browns will certainly exercise Ward’s fifth-year option for 2022 — which checks in at a fully-guaranteed $13.294MM — and perhaps player and team will start to discuss a longer-term arrangement over the summer.

NFL’s Fifth-Year Option Salaries For 2021

The NFL’s 2021 salary cap has been set at $182.5MM, marking the league’s first reduction in a decade. With that, the league has also ironed out the value of this year’s fifth-round option for 2018 first-round picks.

Here’s the full rundown, via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter):

1. Baker Mayfield, Browns, QB — $18.858MM (playing time)

2. Saquon Barkley, Giants, RB — $7.217MM (1x Pro Bowl)

3. Sam Darnold, Jets, QB — $18.858MM (playing time)

4. Denzel Ward, Browns, CB — $13.294MM (1x Pro Bowl)

5. Bradley Chubb, Broncos, LB — $12.716MM (1x Pro Bowl)

6. Quenton Nelson, Colts, G — $13.754MM (2x Pro Bowl)

7. Josh Allen, Bills, QB — $23.106MM (1x Pro Bowl)

8. Roquan Smith, Bears, LB — $9.735MM (playing time)

9. Mike McGlinchey, 49ers, OT — $10.88MM (playing time)

10. Josh Rosen, Cardinals, QB*

11. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers, S (drafted by Dolphins) — $10.612MM (2x Pro Bowl)

12. Vita Vea, Buccaneers, DT — $7.638MM

13. Daron Payne, Washington, DT — $8.529MM (playing time)

14. Marcus Davenport, Saints, DE — $9.553MM

15. Kolton Miller, Raiders, OT — $10.88MM (playing time)

16. Tremaine Edmunds, Bills, LB — $12.716MM (1x Pro Bowl)

17. Derwin James, Chargers, S — $9.052MM (1x Pro Bowl)

18. Jaire Alexander, Packers, CB — $13.294MM (1x Pro Bowl)

19. Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys, LB — $9.145MM

20. Frank Ragnow, Lions, C — $12.657MM (1x Pro Bowl)

21. Billy Price, Bengals, C — $10.413MM

22. Rashaan Evans, Titans, LB — $9.735MM (playing time)

23. Isaiah Wynn, Patriots, OT — $10.413MM

24. D.J. Moore, Panthers, WR — $11.116MM (playing time)

25. Hayden Hurst, Falcons, TE (Drafted by Ravens) — $5.428MM

26. Calvin Ridley, Falcons, WR — $11.116MM (playing time)

27. Rashaad Penny, Seahawks, RB — $4.523MM

28., Steelers, S Terrell Edmunds — $6.753MM (playing time)

29. Taven Bryan, Jaguars, DT — $7.638MM

30. Mike Hughes, Vikings, CB — $12.643MM

31. Sony Michel, Patriots, RB — $4.523MM

32. Lamar Jackson, Ravens, QB — $23.106MM (1x Pro Bowl)

* Rosen was released from his original contract and, therefore, is not option-eligible 

As a refresher, the fifth-year option year is now fully guaranteed. In the past, it was guaranteed for injury only. The values are also dependent on certain performance metrics:

  • Two-time Pro Bowlers (excluding alternate Pro Bowlers) will earn the same as their position’s franchise tag.
  • One-time Pro Bowlers will earn the equivalent of the transition tag.
  • Players who achieve any of the following will get the average of the 3rd-20th highest salaries at their position:
    • 75%+ snaps in two of their first three seasons
    • 75%+ average across all three seasons
    • 50%+ in each of first three seasons
  • Players who do not hit any of those benchmarks will get the average of the 3rd-25th top salaries at their position.

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/13/21

Today’s minor transactions:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

  • Activated off reserve/COVID-19 list: C Alex Mack

Cleveland Browns

Houston Texans