Denzel Ward has spent his entire life in Ohio. He's not leaving any time soon.
Ward has agreed to a five-year, $100.5 million extension with the Cleveland Browns, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday. Of the $100.5 million, $71.25 million is guaranteed, per Rapoport.
The extension makes Ward the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history, inching him past the Rams' Jalen Ramsey (five years, $100 million) and obliterating the previous peak for guaranteed money -- Marshon Lattimore's $44.346 million in New Orleans -- by nearly $27 million.
Ward has compiled a consistently effective career to this point, standing as one of only four players with 10-plus interceptions and 50-plus passes defensed since being drafted in 2018. He's earned trips to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2021 while also posting elite Pro Football Focus grades, owning the fourth-highest coverage mark among corners since 2018 (minimum 1,000 snaps) and allowing the sixth-lowest completion percentage in his career among corners with 100-plus targets since 2018.
He's proven to be a blanket corner capable of staying in a receiver's hip pocket, thanks to his excellent speed, agility and fluidity that made him the fourth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. His knack for making plays on the ball consistently lands him near the top of the Next Gen Stats ballhawk rate rankings, where he's fifth among all corners for his career (minimum 300 career targets as nearest defender) in the Next Gen era at 16 percent.
Ward's biggest hang-up has been his health. The corner has yet to play a full season, appearing in 13 or fewer games in each of his first three seasons due to various injuries. On a positive note, Ward might be turning the corner in this regard, appearing in a career-high 15 contests in 2021 while also tying his career-high mark for interceptions with three.
With the Browns aiming to win an AFC North division that also includes the receiver-laden Bengals in the pass-first modern NFL, Cleveland isn't wasting any time locking up one of its premier players at an important position, guaranteeing the Browns will have a high-quality, exciting cornerback duo (with 2021 first-rounder Greg Newsome II being Ward's running mate) for at least the next three years, if not longer.
Ward's extension also means the Browns can celebrate nailing one half of their selections made in the first round of the 2018 draft, while the other member, quarterback Baker Mayfield, is expected to depart the team at some point this offseason either via trade or release.
The Nordonia (Macedonia, Ohio) High School and Ohio State product was fortunate to stay home in 2018, gesturing the well-known O-H-I-O the night he was drafted by the Browns. He'll be able to enter 2022 knowing he'll remain in the Buckeye State for years to come.