Browns general manager John Dorsey confirmed the agreement on Wednesday.
Ward, 21, was excellent for Ohio State in 2017, registering 37 tackles (two for loss), two interceptions and 15 passes defensed. His selection filled a major need for the Browns at cornerback, no doubt, but there were some fans who wanted NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb with the pick.
Cleveland defensive coordinator Gregg Williams told Peter King of The MMQB he wanted Ward over Chubb and explained the selection:
"The reason is our need for a press cover cornerback. Denzel probably plays that position as well as anyone I've seen in college football in some time. We probably play the most press of any team in the league. There's another reason. I've got a video of 28 snaps of Myles Garrett pass-rushes last year where he gets within two steps or less of the quarterback when the ball comes out. Basically, we aren't covering long enough to let him get to the quarterback. Myles and others—especially [defensive end] Emmanuel Ogbah—will get more chances because of Denzel."
That logic was echoed in many evaluations of the pick:
And Williams added, "Ogbah's a rising star in this league. He's got a chance to be Chubb."
If Ogbah lives up to that potential, the Browns have a dangerous defense in the works. Garrett looks destined for stardom. Ward should help upgrade the corners. Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey are a solid pair at linebacker. Jabrill Peppers should take a step forward playing closer to the box, his more natural role.
There is reason for optimism in Cleveland. While the future of the organization is largely tied to how top overall pick Baker Mayfield fares in the coming years at quarterback, the development for Ward will be crucial on the defensive side of the ball.
If he's a lockdown cornerback for the next decade, Cleveland fans won't wince when they hear Chubb mentioned. But if Ward is a bust and Chubb becomes a star, Browns' fans will be left to lament another missed selection at the top of the draft.