CLEVELAND (AP) — Denzel Ward got locked down. Now there’s a switch.
Cleveland’s two-time Pro Bowl cornerback agreed Monday to a five-year, $100.5 million contract extension with the Browns, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.
Ward’s deal includes $71.25 million guaranteed, said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the 24-year-old has not yet signed the contract. The Browns begin their offseason program Tuesday.
“Loss of words, I’m blessed,” Ward posted on Twitter while thanking the Browns “for continuing to believe in the home grown kid and allowing me to represent this organization and city of Cleveland where I’m from.
“Still work to be done Cleveland but I’m here to stay and work towards what we all set out to do when playing this game! #win!”
With a yearly average of $20.1 million, Ward will be the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, surpassing the $20 million per year for Jalen Ramsey of the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
Ramsey offered his congratulations to Ward on Twitter, posting: “been waiting on somebody else to touch that 100 club & you DEFINITELY DESERVE IT @denzelward.”
Ward has developed into one of the league’s premiere defensive backs — and one of Cleveland’s best players — in the four seasons since the Browns drafted him with the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 out of Ohio State.
The agreement with Ward continues general manager Andrew Berry’s commitment to signing core players. The Browns previously gave long-term deals to All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett, running back Nick Chubb and offensive lineman Joel Bitonio (second team AP All-Pro) and Wyatt Teller.
Ward is from the Cleveland area and said before last season that he hoped to spend his entire career with his hometown team. His new deal runs through the 2027 season.
Ward has 10 career interceptions in 52 games. Last season, he picked off Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for the Browns’ 41-16 win over the Bengals, who went on to win the AFC title.
Ward, who has started 51 games, has 186 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered three.
His impact goes beyond the field as Ward was the Browns’ Walter Payton Man of the Year winner last season for his community work. He also started the “Make Them Know Your Name Foundation,” in honor of his father, Paul, who died unexpectedly in 2016 due to cardiac arrest.
Browns cornerback Greg Newsome played alongside Ward as a rookie last season, and said that experience helped him grow.
“He practices how he plays,” Newsome said late in the year. “He holds himself to a high standard. He comes into games thinking, ‘My goal is to not (give) up a catch in general.’ … I learned a lot from him. Just how to be a pro in general. Just how to attack the cornerback position each game.
“He does not have a flaw in his game to me.”
Notes: The Browns signed DT Sheldon Day and DE Stephen Weatherly, and that WR Ja’Marcus Bradley and guard Michael Dunn signed their exclusive rights tenders. Day played in seven games for Cleveland last season, recording 21 tackles and a sack.