The Browns have locked down a franchise cornerstone at cornerback.
The team and Denzel Ward agreed to a five-year, $100.5 million contract extension on Monday, a person familiar with the deal confirmed to the USA TODAY Network. The deal includes $71.25 million guaranteed. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
Agent Tory Dandy told ESPN the news.
An Ohio State product, Ward will be under contract with his hometown NFL team through the 2027 season.
With an average annual salary of $20.1 million in new money, Ward is the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history, edging Los Angeles Rams five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s $20 million per year. Ward’s $71.25 million guaranteed also edges Ramsey’s previous record of $71.2 million guaranteed, according to spotrac.com.
The extension represents an ideal scenario for Ward.
“In a perfect world, I would definitely want to be a Brown for my entire career,” Ward said in June. “I’m from Cleveland, the team that drafted me, the team that believed in me coming out of college. I take a lot of pride and respect into that and just want to give my all to this team.
“It’s definitely a place I want to be. I enjoy being a Cleveland Brown and giving them everything I’ve got.”
Ward’s agent, Dandy, and the Browns began contractual talks in the spring. Before the extension materialized, Ward had been under contract through the 2022 season, when he’ll be due $13.294 million guaranteed as a result of General Manager Andrew Berry exercising the fifth-year option on the player’s rookie deal in April 2021.
Ward, who will turn 25 on April 28, is coming off his best NFL season.
In 2021, Ward earned the second Pro Bowl selection of his career, compiling 43 tackles, a half sack, a team-high 10 passes defensed and three interceptions in 15 games. His 99-yard interception return for a touchdown proved to be one of the highlights of a disappointing 8-9 season and helped the Browns triumph 41-16 over the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 7 in Cincinnati.
Former Browns GM John Dorsey drafted Ward fourth overall in 2018, when he became a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie.
Ward led the NFL with 15 passes defensed and had been on track to make another Pro Bowl in 2020, but he suffered a strained calf during a dominant November performance against the Philadelphia Eagles and missed the next three games.
Ward later contracted COVID-19, missing the regular-season finale and a wild-card playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He returned for a divisional-round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
When Ward has been healthy, he has been one of the better cornerbacks in the league. He has started 51 of the 52 regular-season games in which he has appeared in four seasons, compiling 186 tackles, a half sack, 50 passes defensed, 10 interceptions (two returned for a touchdown), two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and four quarterback hits.
In 12 games in 2020, Ward had 46 tackles, a career-high 18 passes defensed, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a QB hit.
Injuries, however, have been a recurring issue for Ward.
Two concussions cost him three games late in the 2018 season. A hamstring injury sidelined him for four games in 2019. The strained calf and COVID-19 in 2020 forced him to miss five games, including one in the playoffs. A hamstring injury and another bout with COVID-19 sidelined him for two games in 2021.
Still, Ward is a top-tier player at a premium position. He gives the Browns a coveted presence in coverage while All-Pro end Myles Garrett supplies an elite pass rush. Garrett is under contract through 2026 after receiving a five-year, $125 million extension from Berry in July 2020.