The Browns see Joel Bitonio as part of their future.
They made good on that vision Thursday, signing the fourth-year guard to a five-year extension.
“It’s really an awesome thing, really thankful for me and my family,” Bitonio said. “We’re happy to be in Cleveland, and hopefully we can turn it around and get some wins going.”
His extension is the latest in an effort to keep their best players planted in Cleveland. And Bitonio, considered one of the league’s best interior offensive lineman, fits that profile.
“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,” said Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown.
“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.”
“I think he’s one of the finest guards in football,” head coach Hue Jackson said in August. “I’m very excited about his future and what he potentially could be.”
“I knew about him before I got here,” Jackson continued, “but having the opportunity to work with him and see how hard he works and how much passion he has for playing the game and how important it is to him just raised my opinion of him two-fold. He is doing a good job.”
Bitonio, a second-round draft pick in 2014, has started all 31 of his career games over the past three years.
Bitonio’s past two seasons were cut short by injuries, including foot surgery last October. Before that, Cleveland’s offense averaged 149 rushing yards a game.
Bitonio, who said his foot is healing nicely, joins punter Britton Colquitt, long snapper Charley Hughlett and, perhaps most notably, 2015 Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins to ink new deals with the Browns this offseason.
“It’s really cool, it just shows you how much faith they have in you as a player and as a person and that’s the really good thing about this coaching staff and front office is that they’re looking for the right guys not only on the field but off the field and I try and show that to them and it’s been rewarded,” Bitonio said.
“And I think it also shows you that, if they draft you and you’re a good player and you do the right things, they’re going to reward you.”