The Cleveland Browns already made a sizable investment in edge-rusher Myles Garrett when they selected him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft. With 30.5 sacks over his three years in the NFL, Garrett has provided a significant return on that investment.
According to recent reports, the Browns are preparing to make an even bigger investment in Garrett, opening negotiations with him on a contract that would make him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL.
It's understandable that the Browns would want to extend Garrett, as he has the talent to be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year contender. But given how his 2019 season ended, it's a risk handing Garrett $50 million or more in guaranteed money—one the Browns don't have to take.
At least not yet.
As ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported, after picking up Garrett's $15.2 million fifth-year option for 2021 earlier this offseason, the Browns have begun discussions with Garrett's agent on a megadeal that would keep the 24-year-old in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. New Browns general manager Andrew Berry told 105.7 FM in Baltimore that the team views Garrett as a foundational piece on defense.
"We do see Myles as a long-term member and pillar in our organization," Berry said. "Great player, great person. Obviously, he did make a mistake last year that he's learned from. But our confidence in and faith in Myles has not wavered, and we're looking to seeing what he does this year and certainly for years to come."
In 11 games as a rookie, Garrett tallied 31 total tackles and seven sacks. In his second season, Garrett came just half a sack shy of tying Reggie Camp's single-season franchise record of 14. Last year, Garrett piled up 10 sacks over the season's first seven games and was in the thick of the race for Defensive Player of the Year at the season's halfway point.
Garrett is a wildly gifted, ridiculously athletic pass-rusher. From a talent standpoint, he deserves to be mentioned with the best edge-rushers in the NFL—and the paycheck to match them.
But the "mistake" Berry mentioned can't be ignored.
At the end of a game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers last November, Garrett became involved in an altercation with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph that culminated in Garrett pulling Rudolph's helmet off, swinging it at his head and connecting. Garrett said that Rudolph called him a racial epithet—a claim that Rudolph vehemently denied.
The helmet hit got Garrett an indefinite suspension that ran through the end of the regular season—the longest suspension for a single on-field incident in NFL history.
It wasn't the first time in 2019 that Garrett's behavior on the field raised eyebrows. In Week 1, Garrett threw a punch at Titans tight end Delanie Walker after the whistle. The following game, the pass-rusher ended New York Jets quarterback Trevor Siemian's season with a questionable hit. It was one of two roughing-the-passer calls Garrett drew in that contest.
The two incidents cost Garrett over $50,000 in fines, but, per Dan Labbe of Cleveland.com, Garrett said at the time he wouldn't let that change how he played the game.
"If I'm going to go out there and make some plays," he said, "make a lot of plays and at the backend I might get an unnecessary roughness every three or four games, I don't want to make it a habit, it's not something I want to do, but if that's what happens and I'm still making big plays consistently, I guess that's my toll."
That was before the dustup with Rudolph. Garrett has since been reinstated by the NFL, but there isn't a player in the league under a more powerful microscope. Garrett has no margin for error where his on-field behavior is concerned. He may never have any again.
That has to be a massive consideration before handing Garrett an extension. Right now, the gold standard for edge-rusher contracts is the six-year, $141 million pact with $60 million in guarantees that the Chicago Bears gave Khalil Mack. Next up is the five-year, $105 million deal with $48 million in guarantees DeMarcus Lawrence got from the Dallas Cowboys.
Any Garrett deal will all but certainly involve at least $50 million in guaranteed cash. That's an awfully big investment to make in a player who is one bad decision away from being sidelined for a long time—especially with quarterback Baker Mayfield's extension following not far behind.
It would be different is this was Garrett's contract year. But it's not, as he's under contract through at least 2021. It's not like he's in position to demand a huge payday in 2020—not after what happened at FirstEnergy Stadium last November.
There's very little reason for the Browns not to wait out the 2020 season and let Garrett show that his meltdown was an aberration. Assuming that he makes it through the 2020 season without another incident and has another productive year, there will be plenty of time to break the bank next offseason.
From all indications, that's not the route that Berry and the Browns intend to take. The team appears confident that what happened with Garrett was a one-time mistake. Maybe they're right. Maybe Garrett will continue his ascension to stardom in 2020. Set a franchise high for sacks in a season. Make his second Pro Bowl. Maybe even win Defensive Player of the Year.
But if the Browns are wrong and extend Garrett only to see him run afoul of the league offices again, then his megadeal could be the sort of cap-killer that can wreck an NFL roster.
It's a sizable risk. A needless risk.
And needless risks aren't generally a good idea in the NFL.