Browns Exercise Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward Options; GM Talks QB’s Contract

Getty Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.

It’s six days before the NFL Draft in Cleveland, and after a productive start to free agency, the Cleveland Browns are staying busy with more big moves.

On Friday morning, the Browns announced they have exercised the fifth-year option on quarterback Baker Mayfield. The team had until May 3 to make this move (a move that most would call a “no-brainer.”) This is the first time the Cleveland Browns have picked up a fifth-year option on a drafted quarterback since the fifth-year option was instituted in 2011. 

Fifth-year options are now fully guaranteed, so Mayfield will receive $18.858 million in 2022, as ESPN’s Jake Trotter detailed. 

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During his first three seasons with the Browns, the 26-year-old quarterback has started in 45 games, putting him ninth all-time in games started for a Browns quarterback. After having a solid rookie year, Mayfield suffered a sophomore slump in 2019 before taking the team to the playoffs in 2020. 

Last season, Mayfield threw for 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He had a passer rating of 95.9, which is the third-best in franchise history. During his career with the Browns, he has thrown for 11,115 yards, 75 TDs, and 43 INTs.

While Browns GM Andrew Berry has kept relatively quiet about long-term extension talks with the QB, picking up the fifth-year option opens the door for the future.

Cleveland Browns Exercise Fifth-Year Option on Denzel Ward

Berry & Co. didn’t stop with Mayfield.

Minutes after Mayfield’s news broke, the Browns also confirmed they exercised cornerback Denzel Ward’s fifth-year option. This move guarantees Ward will make $13. 294 million in the 2022 season.

The 23-year-old cornerback was the fourth pick in the 2018 draft out of Ohio State. While he has battled with injuries during his young career, Ward continues to be a force on the field when healthy. He made the Pro Bowl in his 2018 rookie season and finished the 2020 campaign tied for second in the league with 18 passes defensed despite missing four games.

Like Mayfield, Ward is now in a position to sign a long-term deal with the Browns, should there be mutual interest in that regard. This is the second consecutive year the Browns have picked up the fifth-year options on former first-round picks. Last year, they exercised the fifth-year options on defensive end Myles Garrett and tight end David Njoku

Browns GM Speaks About the Moves, Draft, & More

Berry spoke Friday morning about the decision to pick up the fifth-year options on Mayfield and Ward.

“Both had very strong seasons for us in 2020, and we view both of those guys as young players that are ascending and are going to be a big part of what we do as we move forward,” Berry said during the team’s press conference.

Berry was also asked about a possible extension for Mayfield on Friday in the wake of his fifth-year option being picked up. With other 2018 first-round quarterbacks Josh Allen (Buffalo) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore) slated to ink extensions with their teams, there’s a curiosity as to whether or not that could impact Berry’s thinking as far as a Mayfield extension goes. 

When asked about it, Berry said that he “won’t feel any pressure either way” as far as the extension goes, but he did acknowledge that things outside the building can sometimes have an impact on these negotiations. 

Lastly, as for next week’s NFL Draft in Cleveland, the Browns are slated to have the No. 26 overall pick and things could go in a number of different directions. There’s thought that the Browns could trade up, trade down, or totally move out of the first round. That’s something that Berry is confident in being successful at no matter which route they go in. 

“I’m comfortable if we pick,” Berry said. “I’m comfortable if we move down, I’m comfortable if we move out.”

And for the first time in a long time, the Browns are selecting rather late in the first round, so no matter what direction Berry decides to go with the pick, Browns fans should be comfortable with it – just like he is. 

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