Ward has stepped up and in a big way in his first ever contract year, emerging as the best young safety in the AFC North and one of the better defensive backs in the NFL. He, along with shutdown cornerback Joe Haden, are cornerstones for what could be a championship secondary. Ward is currently fourth in the league in tackles among DBs.
What we know for sure, as of the posting of this piece, is that Ward has not yet signed an extension with the Browns. He has gone on record in stating his desire to remain with the franchise. "Yeah, definitely, no doubt," Ward said earlier this fall when asked if he wished to stay in Cleveland. "I love my teammates. I think we have a great team that's going to constantly improve. We're young, and I just see a bright future for us."
Ward was singing a different tune following the team's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a result that will likely mean the end of the team's playoff hopes. " I'm tired of losing, that's it. Tired of losing - in this manner," Ward told reporters after the game. "It's a little bit different if you go to the wire and you're fighting the whole game and you have an opportunity to win the game at the end. But we're out of the game in the fourth quarter. Nobody wants to play like that."
Thus comes the obvious question: Why on earth would Ward want to stay with the Browns past this December? All he has known is losing in his four-year professional career. He has seen multiple regimes come and go without Cleveland having a winning season.
Here are just a few teams that could desperately use a player such as Ward for both next year and for the future.
The New England Patriots: Tom Brady has shown this season that he can legitimately win when playing alongside just about anybody. Brady will, assuming he remains healthy, be back for 2014. That means that the Pats will again be contenders.
Indianapolis Colts: Indy is banged up and thus playing very inconsistent football at the moment. With that said, I expect that Andrew Luck and company will likely once again be the best team in the AFC South next fall. The pass defense of the Colts is average, at best, a unit that could use Ward.
New York Giants: The Giants have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season. There are many champions in that locker room, though, and I believe New York to be a handful of players away from again being a contender. Perhaps Ward would love living in the Big Apple rather than in Cleveland.
A team has to give young talented players a reason to stay. Being a professional athlete is, believe it or not, about more than just getting paid. Besides, Ward is going to cash in this offseason if he does decide that he isn't sold on what the Browns are selling. Money isn't going to be a problem.
Ward, with all of that talent and potential to get even better, deserves to play for a playoff team. It's on those running the Browns to show that the franchise is on the cusp of becoming one. After what I saw on Sunday, I wouldn't at all blame Ward if he decides that the grass is greener elsewhere.
The tradition that is the Browns being the worst team in the division continues on.
Zac has been following Cleveland sports since a little before his birth, and thus his heart breaks a little more with every year. He has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the NFL for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
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