Monday's NFL: Browns' Ward becomes highest-paid cornerback at $20.1M

Tom Withers
Associated Press

Cleveland — 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.

The Browns' Denzel Ward intercepts a pass intended for the Lions' Josh Reynolds in the third quarter.

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!”

Ward has 10 career interceptions in 52 games, including an interception against Lions quarterback Tim Boyle in a 13-10 victory over Detroit in November last year.

Last season, he also 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.

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.”

'Tanking' claims

The Cleveland Browns have spoken to an NFL investigator looking into claims by former coach Hue Jackson, who said the team intentionally lost games – tanked – in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Jackson, now coaching at Grambling State, was fired by Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam eight games into the 2018 season with a 3-36-1 record.

In February, Jackson indicated in a series of posts on social media that the team paid him bonuses incentivizing him to lose and that he was set up to fail. Jackson later softened those claims.

The Browns went 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017.

Spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed the league engaged former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White to look into Jackson’s allegations.

“The review is ongoing and is expected to conclude soon,” McCarthy said in an email to The Associated Press.

The team released a statement Monday night, saying it has worked with the league on its inquiry.

“Even though Hue recanted his allegations a short time after they were made, it was important to us and to the integrity of the game to have an independent review of the allegations,” team spokesman Peter Jean-Baptiste said. “We welcomed an investigation and we are confident the results will show, as we’ve previously stated, that these allegations are categorically false.

“We have cooperated with Mary Jo White and look forward to the findings.”

49ers sign DL Turay

The San Francisco 49ers signed defensive lineman Kemoko Turay to a one-year deal on Monday.

Turay was originally drafted by Indianapolis in the second round in 2018 and spent the past four seasons with the Colts.

Turay played 13 games last season and finished with nine tackles, a career-high 51/2 sacks and the first fumble recovery of his career.

Turay has played 38 career games with 33 tackles, 12.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.