CLEVELAND – For all their drafting mistakes and missteps over the past two decades, the Browns got it right in 2018.
On Friday, the team exercised the fifth-year contract options on quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward, the respective Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks three years ago who have become integral to Cleveland's newfound success.
Mayfield bounced back from a shaky 2019 season to threw 30 touchdown passes last season while leading the Browns to an 11-5 regular-season record, their first playoff appearance since the 2002 season and their first postseason win since 1994 — a wild-card victory over rival Pittsburgh.
The 25-year-old is the franchise QB the Browns have longed for, and now the club will consider signing him to a long-term extension. In the meantime, Mayfield is under contract for the next two seasons, with his 2022 salary guaranteed for $18.8 million.
The Browns had until May 3 to exercise the options on Mayfield and Ward, who will make $13.3 million in his final year.
“Both of those players have just done a really nice job for us over the first three years,” general manager Andrew Berry said in a pre-NFL draft conference call. "Both had very strong seasons for us in 2020 and we view both of those guys as young players who are continuing ascending and they’re going to be a big part of what we do as we move forward.”
Berry wouldn't address if the club has had any preliminary talks with Mayfield or his agents about a long-term deal.
“I think you know me well enough that I’m not going to talk on that in this setting; I just don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said. "But obviously you know both of those players are extension eligible.”
Berry said the club will not be swayed by anything Baltimore or Buffalo does with quarterbacks Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen, who were drafted in the same class as Mayfield and are likely to get long-term extensions from their teams.
“Across all player markets, certainly external factors may impact to some degree what you do with players on your roster,” Berry said when asked about Jackson and Allen. “But by and large, we’ll make those decisions independent of what other teams do. We won’t feel any pressure either way in that regard.”
Mayfield has shown growth on and off the field during his three seasons with Cleveland, easing concerns last year about whether he was their long-term solution at QB.
Ward, who is from Cleveland and starred at Ohio State, has developed into one of the league's better coverage cornerbacks. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and has seven interceptions in three seasons.
NOTES: Berry hasn’t ruled out the Browns re-signing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardon, who was released last week in a salary-camp move. “It is certainly possible,” Berry said. “Obviously, it is something that has to work for all parties involved, but we like Sheldon. He was a productive member of our team and a big part of our success last year. If that ends up being the right fit, that alignment is certainly something we would welcome.”
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