Which Cleveland Browns should be extended after Myles Garrett?
The Cleveland Browns have continued to add a tremendous amount of talent that the last few seasons through both the draft and free agency. While that is great, the next challenge will be trying to retain as much talent as possible with responsible contract extensions.
This will be a difficult task for general manager Andrew Berry as he must decipher who is worth the money and who he should let walk. Much like 2020, when fans saw Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert leave the team, there will be difficult decisions and fan favorites may end up on the outside looking in. Berry and the Browns must be careful to not duplicate the Joe Haden situation, where he got his big payday, and then couldn’t stay healthy or perform.
The first extension is an obvious one with defensive end, Myles Garrett. The No. 1 pick from 2017 has been dominant in his first three years in the league. An injury in year one and a suspension in year three have kept him from earning all-pro honors but it will be a likely scenario for Garrett in 2020.
An analytical regime will try to be cautious spending too much money on one player, but an elite defensive end is a position Berry will be willing to pay. At Age 24, Garrett is likely to become the highest-paid player (other than quarterback) in the league. To this point, experts have speculated $25 million-plus per year will be the price tag. Khalil Mack is currently the highest-paid rusher at $23.5 million per year and many would argue Garrett has the potential to be more dominant.
To this point, there is no reason to believe Garrett has long-term character issues even after the 2019 suspension. He has also remained healthy since the ankle injury his rookie year. In 35 starts Garrett has 30.5 sacks and 104 tackles. Not to mention the quarterback pressures that can sometimes go unnoticed.
There is no doubt the Garrett deal will get done; the Browns haven’t had anyone this talented since Joe Thomas who spent his entire 11-year career with the Browns. If the Browns want to get the best deal they should negotiate before the 2020 season, but if they wait, they could likely sign another big name to give the Browns a better chance to win in 2020.
Garret is the no brainer for most fans, but here are three other contract extensions the Browns will need to focus on after Garrett is locked down.
Larry Ogunjobi, Defensive Tackle
A talented defensive tackle that has had some ups and downs should be on the Browns radar for a contract extension. Larry Ogunjobi has spent his first three seasons after being drafted in the third round by the Browns and will be a free agent after the 2020 season.
Ogunjobi has been a tremendous pass rusher from the inside, but at times can be overly aggressive on run plays which can leave gaping holes. Keep in mind, Ogunjobi is only 26 years of age and has plenty of time to continue to develop. After totaling 5.5 sacks each of the last two years, Ogunjobi is a defender that offenses must worry about on passing downs from the interior.
The Browns must be careful to not overpay Ogunjobi, but at his age, there is no doubt he is still climbing to his peak. He likely has another season or two of improvement before hitting his prime. Over the Caps valuation of Ogunjobi is $6.8 million per year, which is relatively cheap for his production with the team.
Ogunjobi will likely fetch more than that once he hits the open market so the Browns will be smart to try and re-sign the defensive tackle shortly after an extension with Garrett. Once 2020 is over it will be open season for Ogunjobi and his pass-rushing skills will be welcomed by many teams which could drive up the price.
While there is an upside for Ogunjobi to wait until next offseason to create a bidding war in free agency, there is also some peace of mind to sign a contract early and not have to worry about an injury next season, which would thrash his value quickly.
If the Browns could lock up Ogunjobi for 3-4 years at a $6-8 million per year salary, the return on investment would be strong. Ogunjobi has been durable and is a hard worker, let’s hope the Browns make him one of the few who have gotten a second contract in the last 20 seasons.
Denzel Ward, Cornerback
A second contract extension the Browns must consider is cornerback Denzel Ward. This one is much tougher as Ward is under contract through 2021 with a fifth-year option through 2022 at the Browns disposal. When on the field Ward has been extremely productive and the longer the Browns wait, the more money he will demand.
Ward has missed at least three games in each of his first two seasons with the Browns, which is a concern. Multiple concussions lead fans to question if he will have the ability to play in the league long-term. While Ward has received the benefit of the doubt thus far, 2020 will be a major year for Ward to prove he has the durability to compete in the NFL week in and week out.
If he can stay on the field for 16 games, the Browns will want to consider an extension for multiple reasons. One – there is a chance Ward will complain about being underpaid as that has become the popular play. At a salary of $3.1 million in 2020, he is making significantly less than many corners he has outperformed. Two – if you wait too long and he continues to excel there is a chance he will become too expensive for the Browns to keep long-term. There are three corners currently making $15 million-plus per year and Ward could easily be in that salary range.
With injuries being a concern, the Browns would be smart to wait until 2021 offseason to sign Ward. If he makes it through the season without injuries and makes another pro-bowl the team should consider a long-term extension with the Buckeye alumni. There will be a much better chance to get Ward at a discount at that point compared to waiting after his fifth-year option.
Keep in mind this could benefit Ward as well. If the Browns extend him after three-years he will likely still be in his prime when he becomes a free agent again. This is like the strategy Jack Conklin used.
Baker Mayfield, Quarterback
When is the best time for a franchise to win? When their star quarterback is on their rookie deal. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. While that is true, the Browns will be in a different situation with quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Those Seahawk and Chiefs teams that won Super Bowls had a ton of veterans making big dollars. Cleveland has done a nice job of building a roster of young talent that is already playing for a discount.
Knowing that, IF Mayfield has the success many believe he will in 2020 under Kevin Stefanski he is another player the Browns should seriously consider extending next offseason. Again, by signing him a little earlier than later, the Browns could save themselves a few million dollars each year. This is a similar strategy as the New England Patriots who seem to let guys go a few years early, versus a few years late. The key is, Berry must be certain the player will live up to expectations.
The good news about Mayfield is he is super competitive and makes a lot of money off endorsements. I will never criticize a player for making as much money as they can, but maybe Mayfield will take the Tom Brady approach. Take less salary from the team, make money off endorsements, and allow Berry to build a strong roster with extra cap space. Mayfield certainly doesn’t owe that to the Browns, but one can dream.
Mayfield saw his touchdowns and completion percentage go down and his interceptions go up in 2019 compared to 2018, look for him to have a strong rebound in 2020. Don’t expect him to be the next Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, but his creativeness and arm strength is plenty to get the Browns to the next level.
With a strong performance in 2020, the Browns should consider making it official that Mayfield is “the guy” moving forward. Give him the long-term deal that may come at a discount for giving it to him a year early.