CLEVELAND, Ohio — Deshaun Watson can rest assured that he’ll be well protected from his right side for years to come.
The Browns agreed to terms Friday on a four-year extension worth $60 million including $31 million fully guaranteed with two-time first-team All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin, the team’s Ed Block Courage Award winner for this season, a league source confirmed for cleveland.com.
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The $15 million-a-year average in new money puts him among the top 20 offensive tackles in the NFL. Coming off surgery last December to repair his torn patellar tendon, Conklin remarkably made it back for the start of the season and has held down the position at a high level again. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the 18th-best tackle in the NFL with a 68.6 grade. He also ranked 25th among tackles in run block win rate (76.5%) and 10th in pass block win rate (92.4%) according to ESPN Stats and Info.
The Browns expect him to be even better next season — possibly even return to his Pro Bowl form — when he’s another year removed from major reconstructive surgery.
Cleveland.com reported last week that the Browns would likely sign Conklin to an extension soon.
“Cleveland will be my home forever,” Conklin said Dec. 13 when he was voted the Browns’ Ed Block Courage Award winner for working his way back from the surgery. “So obviously I would like to be here for the rest of my career. We’ll see what happens and how that works out. This is the place I definitely want to be, but how things work out, it will work or it won’t work. So we’ll see what happens when it comes to that.”
Kevin Stefanski endorsed his players’ choice for Conklin as the Ed Block recipient.
“He is a tough guy, I would agree with you. He gives you everything he has,” Stefanski said. “That award means so much because it is voted on by your teammates and by your peers so the players saw him work like crazy to get back this season. I saw it. He lived here in this building.
“It is the offseason, it is a weekend and it is odd hours he is in here working trying to get better. I just think it speaks to his personality and it speaks to his determination to help this football team and to play through injury. He provides great leadership for this football team. I thought the guys picked a very, very worthy person in Jack Conklin.”
Conklin’s tireless rehab in the offseason wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“He was always in the weight room, always in the training room,” Amari Cooper said. “I didn’t really know him, but I just saw how big he was to be honest. I was like, who was that guy? And he was telling me who he was and what his injury was. And yeah, I definitely saw all the hard work that he put in to try and get back.”
Assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters, a seven-year offensive lineman, marveled at Conklin’s heroic return from such a major surgery in less than a year.
“It’s incredibly remarkable and he has my full respect and the respect of everyone because of that,” Peters said. “To come back from a full tear like that in the knee patella, I mean, a lot of people don’t. And he did and came back (strong) and man, I’m super proud of Jack and he’s well deserving of that award.”
The extension ensures that the Browns offensive line will remain intact for the 2023 season, which will be important for Watson’s development. Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller will remain in their posts, and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. will return for his fourth season. In fact, the Browns are expected to exercise his fifth-year club option by the deadline in May.
At center, the Browns will likely re-sign Ethan Pocic, who held down the fort well in Nick Harris’ absence this season, and who will return to action Saturday against the Saints after being activated off injured reserve Thursday with his knee injury.
The extension also reaffirms the Browns’ financial commitment to their offensive line. Their right tackle averages $15 million, left guard Bitonio is the fifth-highest paid guard in the NFL at $16 million a year, and right guard Teller is the sixth-highest paid guard in the NFL at $14.2 million a year.
When they pick up Wills’ option for 2024, it will be about $13.935 million a year for a first-rounder with no Pro Bowls. Building strong through the offensive and defensive lines is a core part of the Browns’ philosophy, and Conklin’s extension aligns with that.
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