Cleveland turned the tides of their franchise in 2018 when they had two top-5 picks. They spent them on quarterback Baker Mayfield and corner Denzel Ward, which launched the franchise forward and accelerated their timeline.
Ward doesn't get the same attention as other Browns, even though he played at a near All-Pro level in 2021. He has dealt with adversity in many forms; Ward is now on his third defensive coordinator and has missed several games each year due to injury.
Despite these obstacles, Ward comes back every year with something different to his game. He was always a strong cover corner but routinely found ways to patch up inconsistencies.
Other corners struggle with constructive criticism, content to work on their strengths without ever developing. It is why the position is so hard to draft, and when you stumble upon an elite one, you can't let them slip through your fingers.
The Browns would have been comfortable paying Ward over the offseason, but he opted to bet on himself instead. He will be rewarded for his efforts; he made the second Pro Bowl of his career in 2021 and was one of the most consistent players for the team.
Since arriving in Cleveland, general manager Andrew Berry has preached that he wants players to be smart, tough, and accountable. That has served as their mantra the past few years, and Ward embodies all of them.
Ward is also Cleveland's representative for the "Walter Payton Man Of The Year," given to the NFL player who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to giving back to his community.
Ward's commitment to improving, coupled with the positive presence he brings to a young locker room, makes an extension this offseason a no-brainer. Some have speculated that his contract will reset the market for the position; currently, the highest-paid corner is Rams defender Jalen Ramsey at twenty million dollars per season.
The front office should prioritize this come the summer; they will have their hands full with impending free agents and the draft up until then. While there isn't a sense of urgency to get this done, it would be nice to have a franchise cornerstone locked in for the next several seasons.
He could conceivably improve next season as well. The Browns emphasized ensuring they could teach defensive backs how to play, and as a result, they were one of the best-coached groups in the league.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods came up as a secondary and corners coach, so his presence should positively impact Ward. The Browns also have a tight-knit corner group that seems to push each other.