A standout member of the Cleveland Browns defense is in line for a big payday.
Shutdown cornerback Denzel Ward is about to wrap up his fourth year in Cleveland and will be eligible this offseason for a contract extension. Brad Spielberger, of Pro Football Focus, is predicting that the two-time Pro-Bowl selection is going to cash in to the tune of a five-year, $105 million deal with a total of $72.5 million guaranteed.
Ward is in line to make just shy of $13.3 million in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract in 2022, per Spotrac, the option for which the Browns have long since picked up. He will be in line to become an unrestricted free agent following next season if Cleveland doesn’t lock him up before then and would be a premium target for essentially any NFL franchise with the cap space to pay him.
Ward Should Benefit From Former College Teammate’s Recent Deal
The relevant player gauges to help frame the likely details of Ward’s coming extension are the deals signed by New Orleans Saints cover corner Marshon Lattimore, who inked a contract extension last year worth $97 million over five seasons, and defensive back Marlon Humphrey, who the Baltimore Ravens extended for five years at a price tag of $97.5 million.
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In a piece published on PFF Tuesday, December 28, Spielberger explained the connections.
Lattimore’s extension shortly before the 2021 season was great news for Ward, and not just because the two players were teammates at Ohio State in 2015 and 2016 before Lattimore was drafted No. 11 overall in 2017 and Ward subsequently went No. 4 overall in 2018.
Lattimore, like Ward, has had some issues with week-to-week consistency from both a health and performance perspective. However, the two young stars are the rare breed of outside cornerback who are true lockdown players, playing roughly 60% of their snaps in press coverage looks out wide. There are some abilities and skill sets that simply cannot be taught, and excelling as a man cover cornerback on the outside is one of them. For this reason, when a team finds such a player, it tends to pay top dollar at the position.
Ward’s Statistical Production is Worthy of a Top-Level Extension
The similarities between Ward and two of the other top cover corners in the game don’t end with the amount of money they are all going to be paid.
According to statistics provided by Spielberger, Ward allows fewer yards per coverage snap at 0.9 than Humphrey at 1.04 or Lattimore at 1.2. The Browns d efensive back also allows fewer explosive plays at 1.8% compared to 2.1% for Humphrey and 2.5% for Lattimore. As a press cover corner, Ward’s PFF grade is a 66.0, while Humphrey rates at 69.5 and Lattimore falls in at 60.2.
The numbers make the case beyond a doubt, despite the fact that Ward has missed time in each of his four seasons in the league. He started 12 games in each of his first three years, appearing in 13 during his rookie campaign, per Pro Football Reference. Ward has started and played in 14 of 15 games this season and was selected to his second Pro-Bowl just last week.
Ward has also snagged 10 interceptions during his career, forced 2 fumbles and recovered 3 more, while scoring 2 defensive touchdowns. He has defensed 50 passes, made 183 tackles and has hit the quarterback 4 times.
Given his consistent level of production and rare natural skill set, it would be a shock if Ward doesn’t remain in Cleveland for years to come.