David Njoku finds himself in an interesting position. The Browns hit the former first-round pick with the franchise tag, despite the veteran tight end’s history of inconsistent production. Njoku now has an offer to consider, but he is also set to play with a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback this season.
This year’s tight end franchise tag came in at $10.9MM, but the Browns’ offer is believed to be beyond $13MM annually, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (ESPN+ link). Considering Njoku’s production history, landing top-five money at his position would be quite the coup. But the guarantee structure is not yet known.
The Browns have been discussing a deal with Njoku’s camp for months, and the five-year veteran said last year he wanted to reach a long-term agreement to stay in Cleveland. This would be a turnaround development for Njoku, who sought a trade at multiple points in 2020. He compiled just 213 receiving yards and two touchdowns that year, when the Browns gave Austin Hooper a $10.5MM-per-year deal. Hooper is now out of the picture, having been cut in March.
Four tight ends — George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Dallas Goedert and Mark Andrews — earn more than $14MM per year. No one else at this position is signed to a contract worth $13MM-plus. Njoku, who has one season with more than 500 receiving yards (2018), would not seem to have a case to join that top tier. But it is clear the Browns value the 2017 first-round pick, who caught 36 passes for 475 yards and four touchdowns last season. He joined Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz in receiving the tag, and GM Andrew Berry was with the team when it selected Njoku out of Miami five years ago.
Njoku, 25, has a chance to post career-best numbers with Deshaun Watson at the controls. That said, it is unknown how much of this season Watson will play. That stands to affect Njoku, who would go into a critical year should he opt to play on the tag to push for a bigger payday. The Browns have just one other pass catcher (Amari Cooper) signed to a notable veteran contract and hold the NFL’s most cap space, at more than $27MM. Cleveland has until July 15 to extend Njoku.