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.