This is by far the hardest contract extension to predict this offseason unlike those I wrote for either Baker Mayfield or Nick Chubb. Wyatt Teller’s was more difficult than those two but easier than Denzel Ward’s.
It Might Not Happen This Offseason
Denzel Ward has been one of the best corners since he entered the league. According to PFF, he is the only corner with under 40% completion percentage when in single coverage the last three seasons, he is at an incredible 31%. Health is the main concern though having missed four games on average each season.
The Browns are sure to activate his fifth-year option this offseason but they could wait another season before agreeing to a long-term extension. This will give Ward a chance to prove he can play 16 or more games in a season. At the same time, the Browns can load up a room of three or more promising prospects and see who can elevate themselves if they decide Ward’s health comes with too much risk.
I will keep saying this until I’m blue in the face, it pays to be first in the NFL offseason when doing contracts.
Each player that gets paid usually gets a little more than the one before. Jared Goff got $1.5 million per year more than Carson Wentz. Joey Bosa got $2 million more per year than Myles Garrett.
Last offseason we saw the perfect example in the cornerback market. Tre’Davious White signed his deal first at $17.25m per year. Then Jalen Ramsey reset the market at $20m a year because he had leverage over the Rams due to their failure to do an extension when he was traded. Marlon Humphrey was the next deal and got $19.5m per year because he was able to work off of the Ramsey deal. White would have got over $19m a year if he had allowed Ramsey to agree to his deal first.
There are no big deals at cornerback due in Free Agency this offseason, but there are a few names who could get an early extension, such as Marshon Lattimore, Jaire Alexander, Adoree’ Jackson and Carlton Davis. Getting ahead of all of these will be important if they want to get the cheapest possible price this offseason.
What Is The Corner Market Like? $$$
In 2020 five major cornerbacks signed new deals, increasing the ceiling on the market after it had previously stagnated. Let us look at each of those five deals in chronological order and the new money included. I will breakdown the deals to show you where the cut decisions are, as this is more important than headline figures and how it appears on the salary cap from year to year. Data from Over The Cap
March 17th – Byron Jones
Jones was the top cornerback in free agency and cashed in with a big five-year deal, which guarantees each of the first three years:
Year 1, 2 & 3 – $54.375m total ($18.125m APY)
Year 4 – $14.1m option
Year 5 – $14.025m option
March 21st – Darius Slay
The Eagles traded for Slay and made the smart move to instantly extending him. All teams giving up a first in a trade should look to do this if the player has two or fewer years remaining. He was given a three-year extension worth $50.05m, on top of the $10.5m that was remaining on his Detriot deal:
Year 1 – $15.55m guaranteed
Year 2 – $16.5m option
Year 3 – $17.5m option
This deal is slightly different from the other four as it is a third contract rather than a second deal.
September 6th – Tre’Davious White
White had $3,210,884 remaining on his rookie deal and his fifth-year option of $10,244,000. This gave him a four-year extension after his third season worth $69m in new money:
Year 1, 2 & 3 – $56,414,907 total ($18,804,969 APY)
Year 4 – $12,585,093 option
September 9th – Jalen Ramsey
Ramsey played three years in Jacksonville before being traded to the Rams and playing out his fourth year there. He had reworked his deal and there was $13,703,00 of money remaining on his deal. Before his fifth season they signed him to a five-year extension worth $100m in new money:
Year 1, 2 & 3 – $62m total ($20.667m APY)
Year 4 – $18.5m option
Year 5 – $19.5m option
October 1st – Marlon Humphrey
Humphrey was in a similar situation to White. He had played three years with the Ravens and they agreed on a five-year extension to be added after his fifth-year option. He got $97.5m in new money:
Year 1, 2 & 3 – $60.25m total ($20.083m APY)
Year 4 – $18m option
Year 5 – $19.25m option
What About The Injuries?
If Ward had been healthy and played nearly all the snaps across his first three years then we would be talking about a deal similar to the one Marlon Humphrey’s got. Let’s look at how many he played:
2018 – 13 games out of 16
2019 – 12 games out of 16
2020 – 13 games out of 18
The nearest comparison I can find for Ward’s injuries is Xavien Howard who played 35 games out of 48 in his first three years. Ward had played 76% across his first three seasons compared to Howard’s 73%.
May 9th, 2019 – Xavien Howard
Howard had played three years when he agreed to a five-year extension worth $75.25m in new money:
Year 1 & 2 – $38.025 total ($19.0125m APY)
Year 3 – $12.975m option
Year 4 – $12m option
Year 5 – $12.25m option
The 2019 NFL Salary Cap was $188.2m when this deal was signed, compared to the $198.2m in 2020. This is a 5.3% increase, let’s adjust the Howard deal by this to bring it in line with the 2020 deals we saw above:
$79.25m/5 in new money
Year 1 & 2 – $40 total ($20m APY)
Year 3 – $13.7m option
Year 4 – $12.65m option
Year 5 – $12.9m option
The main difference we see from the Howard deal compared to the deals White, Ramsey & Humphrey got is that two years are guaranteed based on structure rather than three. This gives the team the opportunity to walk away if the injuries get much worse.
What Is Ward’s Current Deal?
Denzel Ward is entering the final year of his rookie deal and they will be activating his fifth-year option this offseason. Where he has made one Pro Bowl he is due to make $13.2m, a second Pro Bowl would have made the fifth-year option $15.266m.
So How Much Money?
I am going to make a prediction on the contracts but due to the injuries don’t be surprised if we see a couple of million either way on the final deal.
First I would start with the adjusted Howard deal of $15.85m average per year. The Cornerback market saw a jump of $2.25m between the White and Humprey’s deal, factoring this in, it gives us an average per year of approximately $18m.
Because Ward was drafted so high, his agent is automatically able to quote a price around the top players in the NFL at cornerback. If he was a second-round pick we could easily be knocking off a million or so a year off his price. It is one of the many hidden reasons why trading back and getting extra picks can have its advantages.
We have seen a mix of four and five-year deals at the position but I feel this Front Office would ask for the fifth year. This gives the team a benefit on the backend of the deal if the injuries aren’t as bad as they have been in the past.
The Browns haven’t included many bonus clauses in deals they have done so far (Hooper, Conklin & Garrett) but there is no reason to say they won’t go forward. Based on some of the deals we have seen in the cornerback market I believe we will see a workout and per-game roster bonus in the new years. A workout bonus of $100,000 in each of the new years. With injury concerns around Ward, they likely add $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses to protect themselves. Also, the Ramsey & Humphrey deals contain a $4m roster bonus in both the fourth and fifth new year. This forces the team to make a decision early on keeping the player and maximizing his opportunity to get on another roster if they aren’t keeping him due to his high cap hit.
How Could It Look?
Rather than use guaranteed salaries in the first few new years. The Browns likely use an option bonus instead to keep the cap hits as low as possible the next two seasons by backloading deals.
This creates a contract that is:
– 5-year deal
– $90 million in new money ($18m APY)
– $20 million signing bonus ($4m)
– $12.5 million option bonus in 2022 ($2.5m)
– $12.5 million option bonus in 2023 ($2.5m)
– $500,000 total of per-game roster bonuses from 2023
– $100,000 workout bonuses from 2023
– $4 million roster bonus in 2025 and 2026 on the second day of training camp
– Base salary guaranteed for 2021, 2022 & 2023
Below shows what it could look like on paper:
With this proposed contract you are committing to two new years of Denzel Ward to tie him down for the next four seasons in total. After that, you can decide if you want to keep him around long term. The 2025 season would be very likely on a $10.8m option whereas the later years could be ones you walk from depending on how his body holds up.
New Year 1 & 2 – $45 total ($22.5m APY)
Year 3 – $10.8m option
Year 4 – $16.6m option
Year 5 – $17.6m option
Any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JackDuffin. The DMs are open for any salary cap/roster construction questions you have.