By Daryl Ruiter | 92.3 The Fan

CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – A year after being criticized for not keeping their young talent, the Browns broke out the checkbook to keep guard Joel Bitonio.

The team finalized a 5-year extension with Bitonio the team announced on Thursday.

“I am so excited to be part of the Browns organization,” Bitonio said. “I want to thank the Haslams, Sashi (Brown), Coach (Hue) Jackson, Chris (Cooper), everyone for getting this done. They have unbelievable faith in me and I have faith in them. I am really pumped to be here to try to help build this up and turn the Browns around.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was first to report that the extension, which is worth $51.2 million with $23.7 million guaranteed, was in the works. The new contract keeps him under the Browns’ control through the 2022 season making him among the highest paid at his position.

The Browns drafted Bitonio in the second round – 35th overall – in the 2014 NFL Draft.

“It’s important for us to identify the young talented players on our roster, who fit our culture and make sure they remain Cleveland Browns,” executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. “Joel has proven that he is a smart, tough, physical football player and we view him as one of the best young linemen in this league. He exemplifies what we look for in a young leader on and off the field. We are excited to keep him here to be part of our foundation for a number of years to come.”

After starting all 16 games as a rookie and not missing a single snap, Bitonio missed the last 6 games of the 2015 season due to an ankle injury and he was placed on injured reserve after sustaining a foot injury in Week 5 last season that led to Lisfranc surgery.

Cleveland is investing heavily in their offensive line this offseason after giving up 66 sacks, using 7 different starting lineups up front and going through 5 different quarterbacks in 2016.

The Browns, who are close to signing Packers center JC Tretter according to NFL network’s Mike Garafolo, also added Bengals free agent guard Kevin Zeitler for 5 years and $60 million.


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