Highest Paid DB Ever: Did The Browns Over-reward the Warden?

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Nathan Masgras '24, Edsman Staffer

Five years, 100.5 million dollars was the final agreement between the Cleveland Browns and Denzel Ward, making him the highest-paid cornerback in the history of the NFL. To be paid such an amount, a player must be incredibly talented and through four seasons for Cleveland Denzel Ward has proven just that. However, becoming the highest-paid corner ever in the NFL has raised the question “is the Browns star truly deserving of the pay?”.

To answer this question, Ward’s stats and performances need to be evaluated. Over his four seasons in which he has dealt with several injuries, he has two Pro Bowl selections coming in 2018 and 2021. In his 2021-2022 campaign, he was involved in 43 combined tackles and had three interceptions, one of which was a 99-yard pick-six against the Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati Bengals in November. However, when comparing his stats last year with the LA Rams’ Jalen Ramsey, who has reached the Pro Bowl in five out of the six seasons he has played in the league, Ward falls short. Ramsey was involved in 77 combined tackles in the 2021-2022 NFL season and had four interceptions. So what does Denzel Ward have to offer stat-wise that makes him worthy of this deal? In an Instagram post from April 18, 2022, CBS Sports highlighted Denzel’s stats against top wide receivers in the league and the numbers are astounding. Versus the offensive rookie of the year Ja’Marr Chase, Denzel Ward held the Bengal’s star receiver to just two targets and had two interceptions. Also, despite former Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams boasting 1500 yards on 123 receptions in 2021, Ward held him to just fifty yards when defending him, which was, “[the most yards] surrendered all season by a WR when Denzel Ward was the primary defender.” Denzel Ward truly is remarkable regarding his ability to defend the NFL’s best receivers, yet the question remains if his contract is excessive when looking at the other highest-paid cornerbacks in the league?

To determine if he is deserving of the five-year 100,5 million dollar contract, Ward’s salary must be compared to the earnings of other top corners in the league. According to profootballnetwork.com, Denzel Ward will be earning 20.1 million dollars per year, with Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams directly behind him making 20.0 million. Coming in third and fourth places, Marshon Lattimore and Marlon Humphrey both make approximately 19.5 million yearly (Rolfe). The pay gap between the top corners and Denzel Ward is not too significant when referencing pay in the NFL, as the top four highest-paid cornerbacks make just 600,000 dollars within each other yearly. To put the money a cornerback makes into perspective, top quarterbacks such as Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers each make upwards of 40 million annually. Thus, as long as Denzel Ward continues to produce quality performances, the record-breaking contract between the talented corner and the Cleveland Browns doesn’t seem all too absurd. 

For me, Denzel Ward is deserving of the contract he received from the Cleveland Browns in April. Alongside posting remarkable stats against the top receivers in the league, Ward was born in Cleveland and grew up in the suburb of Macedonia. Having a hometown hero that Browns fans can cheer for is good for Cleveland, and may even draw more attention to the game. All in all, compared to other corners in the league, Ward’s salary is not even close to ridiculous. If he continues to produce incredible stats, he will be known as the person that grew up in Northeast Ohio, played in Northeast Ohio, and was the worthy recipient of the highest paying contract in the history of NFL cornerbacks.