3 players the Cleveland Browns must be cautious re-signing right now
The big news this week was the Cleveland Browns and star pass-rusher Myles Garrett finalized a five-year, $125 million contract extension with $100 million of guaranteed money. With a large amount of salary cap the Browns have currently, this deal makes sense for many reasons. Garrett has proven to be an All-Pro talent player and hasn’t faced any injury concerns since his rookie year.
The Garrett signing was certainly no shock. After restructuring Olivier Vernon’s contract a few weeks ago, and the excess cap space next year, the writing was on the wall for the young man to get paid. While the cap details have yet to surface, expect Andrew Berry to give a sizable signing bonus with much of the money front-loaded to keep the Browns flexible moving forward.
To this point, Berry has been extremely strategic on how to bring talent to the Browns. He was able to sign the best right tackle free agent, Jack Conklin, to a three-year deal and not break the bank. Additionally, he paid another Pro Bowl caliber player in Austin Hooper, who luckily plays a position that is still underpaid in the NFL.
There is nothing to guarantee an injury won’t happen and all these signings will be for nothing, but it looks like the Browns will have an extremely competitive roster for 2020.
With the major signing of Garrett in the past, Berry can now sit down and really start to evaluate who his next major contract extension should be with. Over the last three seasons, the Browns have accumulated a ton of young talent, but unfortunately, with a salary cap, it is impossible to keep everyone.
It will be crucial for Berry to be accurate when evaluating who should stay to build the franchise and who he should let walk to sign the “big deal” elsewhere.
There is no doubt this will be a huge challenge, but to this point, he appears to be more than capable. But which three players should the Browns be cautious of re-signing right now?
Let’s get this out of the way quickly, this doesn’t mean the Browns should not re-sign Baker Mayfield, but it does mean Berry should see how year three pans out before a big commitment. As a rookie, Mayfield looked like the slam dunk franchise quarterback, but under the poor leadership of Freddie Kitchens last season, there was a major regression.
As a rookie, Mayfield went 6-7 as the starter and completed nearly 64 percent of his passes while adding 27 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions. More importantly, he was extremely efficient when the offense hit the red zone. In his second year with three additional starts, Mayfield went 6-10 and saw his completion percentage dip below 60. Not to mention he only threw 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Far too many times the Browns would get inside the 20-yard line and stall.
When the Browns pulled off a trade for Odell Beckham before the 2019 season many expected them to be instant contenders. Truthfully, even Mayfield would admit he thought the glory would come without putting in the work.
Because of the regression last season, Berry should wait before giving Mayfield the keys to the franchise. However, look for this deal to get done next offseason after a massive 2020 season under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski.
The wide zone play-action scheme will fit Mayfield perfectly and he has the tools to go with it. While Kitchens and Mayfield had success in 2018, it was quickly apparent the promotion to head coach was too much and he struggled to keep the offense in sync. With a rejuvenated Mayfield and an entire roster that was embarrassed by their 2019 outcome, look for the old Baker with a chip on his shoulder to come back.
Truthfully, waiting will likely cost the organization more money than signing Mayfield now. However, with the minor setback last season, it does feel necessary for him to prove he has what it takes.
Let’s not forget in 2018 the Browns didn’t just pick Mayfield in the first round, they also selected Denzel Ward just three picks later from Ohio State University. Ward was elected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but has fought nagging injuries for the last two years and has concussion concerns.
When healthy, Ward is a top-tier corner, even with a few tackling issues. But the biggest reason to wait another year or two before re-signing Ward is the concussions. Not only has he had multiple cases in his first two years in the league, but he also has a bad habit of lowering his head while tackling, leaving him more susceptible for injury in the future.
If Ward can stay on the field for the entire 2020 season and avoid the nagging hamstring injury again, there is no reason to believe he won’t be a Pro Bowler once again. Ward has thrived in zone coverage, as his ability to read the quarterbacks eyes is unbelievable. He also has the athleticism and instincts to play man-to-man against the best wide receivers in the league.
Ward must focus on improving his tackling, but with some coaching, he could turn into a top-five corner in the league. With cornerback being a highly sought-after position in the NFL, waiting for a year or two could drive his market to the $15-17 million per year range, but the Ohio native may be willing to take a little less to win in his home state.
Ward has all the talent and ability in the world, but he must prove he can stay healthy and sustain a long NFL career before backing up the truck of money to him.