The Browns have to worry about new contracts for guys like Baker Mayfield, Wyatt Teller, Nick Chubb, and sooner rather than later, Jack Conklin. There’s going to be some changes, and guys like David Njoku, Odell Beckham Jr, and even Austin Hooper could be on the way out before their deals are done in order to make room for the new deals. One of those names that the Browns will need to decide about what to do sooner-rather-than-later is Denzel Ward, a player whose future isn’t as nearly a lock on the team as some may think.
While no one can doubt his play, he is one of the more talented corners in the game, what people are worried about when it comes to Ward is the one thing he has no real control over; his persistent injuries.
The world of sports has three core pillars that need to be marked off in order to warrant big money. The first is usually behavior-related; are you reliable? The second is talent-related; can you play? The third is health-related; can you perform as expected?
You need all three to be seen as a safe signing or “worth their contract”. Ward is a good guy by all accounts. There’s no real issue that anyone is talking about with him. He’s also extremely talented, and will always be a good matchup during his prime. The problem comes down to the last one; Ward isn’t a guarantee to stay healthy.
Since he was drafted in 2018, Ward has not started more than 12 games in a season, and in a league that is going from 16 to 17 games, that means if his average holds, he’ll miss five games per year. Can you afford to pay a guy top-cornerback money if they miss nearly 30% of the games per year?
Through three years, he’s started 12 games per season and has missed 11. So he nearly has missed as many games in his career as he averages per-season.
Now again, Ward on talent and demeanor alone is a slamdunk signing. Is his physical health too much of a liability to warrant a massive deal though? That’s what the Browns need to figure out. Personally, Ward may be too good to let walk, even if he only plays 12 games every year. The problem is, how much is that worth?
Do you have to ask him to take a cut, or do you give him more incentive ladened deals to help negate any negative impact Ward’s injuries may cause to the cap?
There are a lot of questions and Ward’s health in 2021 is going to be key in answering them. If he misses four or more games, the Browns would be better off offering him a fair, but lighter deal, and hope he understands why. If he walks, he walks but that may be better than investing tens of millions of dollars on a player who may just handcuff the team with an awful contract that he can’t perform to the level of.
In the end, it all comes down to value.