Denzel Ward is signing a five-year contract extension with the Cleveland Browns, according to ESPN and confirmed by CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson. The deal is worth $100.5 million and includes $71.25 million guaranteed, Ward's representatives confirmed to ESPN, making the 24-year-old the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history.
Ward earned his extension after receiving his second career Pro Bowl nod in 2021 after recording three interceptions (including a 99-yard pick-six in Cleveland's regular season win in Cincinnati) and breaking up 10 passes during the 2021 season. The fourth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Ward was slated to become a free agent after the 2022 season
Ward's contract exceeds his projected market value of five years and $93.8 million, according to Spotrac. He joins Jalen Ramsey, Marlon Humphrey, Marshon Lattimore and Xavien Howard as the NFL's only cornerbacks with an annual salary of at least $18 million.
Ward is part of a talented Cleveland secondary that also includes second-year cornerback Greg Newsome II, fellow cornerback Troy Hill, and safeties Grant Delpit and John Johnson. The unit allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards in the NFL in 2021.
The Browns have had an active offseason that includes the signing of former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to a five-year, $230 million, fully guaranteed contract. Cleveland also traded three first-round picks to acquire Watson.
Cleveland is also still dealing with the uncertain future of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who played through several injuries last season. Because of his contract (Mayfield is due nearly $19 million after the team picked up his fifth-year option), the Browns have to find a trade partner for Mayfield and preferably someone who would be willing to pick up at least part of Mayfield's salary.
The Browns struggled through an 8-9 season in 2021 a year after recording the franchise's first playoff win in 26 years. Despite last year's mediocre record, the Browns' roster includes some of the league's best talent in Ward, running back Nick Chubb and pass rusher Myles Garrett. And while Watson is surely an upgrade at quarterback, the Browns will have to use the draft to replenish their receiving corps (to join Amari Cooper) after releasing Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. over the past year.