Denzel Ward, Browns Agree to 5-Year, $100.5M Contract; Highest-Paid CB in NFL History

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVApril 18, 2022

Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward plays against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
AP Photo/Ron Schwane

Denzel Ward is staying with the only NFL team he has ever known for the foreseeable future.

The cornerback and the Cleveland Browns have agreed to a five-year, $100.5 million extension with $71.25 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. That will make Ward the highest-paid cornerback in league history.

He told reporters last June his agent had discussed a contract extension with the Browns.

"In a perfect world, I'd definitely want to be a Brown for my entire career," he said.

The 24-year-old's contract was set to expire after the 2022 season following Cleveland's decision to exercise his fifth-year option for $13.3 million.

The Browns selected him out of Ohio State with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft, and he made an immediate impact. He was a Pro Bowler as a rookie with 53 tackles, three interceptions, 11 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble, establishing himself as the team's top corner.

Ward played 12 games in 2019 and again in 2020, tallying two picks in each year. He posted a career-best 18 passes defended in 2020 for the playoff-bound Browns.

While Ward wasn't quite the dominant and consistent playmaker he was as a rookie, Pro Football Focus gave him a solid overall grade of 72.8 in 2020.

He compiled 43 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defended last year en route to his second Pro Bowl appearance.

It is no surprise that Cleveland looked to keep him aboard. He can defend the opponent's best wide receiver with impressive speed and the ability to play physically if needed.

His presence is also key in a division with notable quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow, and he allows the defense to play single coverage and put more pressure on passers with Myles Garrett and Co. up front.

Ward figures to remain a key part of a young nucleus for a franchise that's looking to rebound from a disappointing 2021 season.

Cornerbacks around the league are likely thanking Ward for resetting the market and raising the price tag for elite players at the position.