Leave it to the Browns to pay 5 million dollars more over 4 years to an inferior safety. The Browns signed Donte Whitner to a 4-year, 28 million dollar deal hours before the Broncos signed former Browns safety TJ Ward to a 4-year 23 million dollar deal. Some point out that Whitner’s deal has 1 million dollars less in guaranteed money, but if your only argument for why a deal is a better deal is that it’ll be slightly easier to get out of if he doesn’t live up to his salary than you’re probably in trouble.
There’s no denying that Ward is a better player than Whitner. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd and 6th ranked safety in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the only safety in the NFL to finish top-6 both seasons. He’s also graded out higher than Whitner in 3 of the last 4 seasons, since Ward was drafted in the 2nd round in 2010. Finally, Ward is over a year younger, which matters.
That being said, I don’t hate this deal for two reasons. One, it’s very possible that Ward would not have cut the Browns the same deal he gave to the Broncos, as one is a Super Bowl contender and the other hasn’t made the playoffs in years. It’s entirely possible that to keep Ward, they would have had to give him 30 or 32 million over 4 years. I still would have done that deal over signing Whitner to this deal, but it’s not completely fair to grade on pure numbers here.
Also, this isn’t a terrible value for Whitner. He’s an inconsistent player who graded out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus in each season from 2008-2010 in Buffalo and who allowed 12 touchdowns in regular season and post-season combined in 2012 on a 49ers team that allowed just 26 total passing touchdowns in the regular season and post-season combined. However, he graded out 8th among safeties in 2011 and 6th among safeties in 2013. I think the Browns made the wrong safety choice, even if they would have had to pay Ward 32 million, but this isn’t an awful deal.