David Njoku will turn his franchise tag into a top-five tight end agreement. Weeks ahead of the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions, the Browns have come to terms with the former first-round pick.
The Browns are signing Njoku to a four-year deal worth $56.75MM, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com report (on Twitter). Njoku will see $28MM fully guaranteed. This $14.2MM-per-year deal makes the five-year Browns contributor the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid tight end.
Cleveland, which entered Friday holding the second-most cap space in the league, could have used this season as a de facto audition year for Njoku on the tag. But reports kept indicating the Browns’ seriousness about extending him. After making an offer north of $13MM per year, the Browns confirmed their faith in Njoku with this deal.
Njoku’s $14.2MM-AAV figure comes in below George Kittle‘s $15MM positional highwater mark, but it is right in the neighborhood of Travis Kelce ($14.3MM AAV) and Dallas Goedert ($14.25MM). Considering Njoku’s lack of statistical success on his rookie contract, this is a major win for the ex-Miami Hurricane and a Browns bet on his potential.
The 2017 first-rounder has just one 500-yard season on his resume. That came back in 2018, when Hue Jackson, Todd Haley and Freddie Kitchens were running Cleveland’s offense. The 6-foot-4 pass catcher, however, is only going into his age-26 season. Several prime years could remain ahead for Njoku, who should have a big opportunity to up his game with Deshaun Watson now at quarterback in Cleveland.
This extension comes two months after the Browns cut Austin Hooper, whom they previously signed to a top-five (at the time) tight end deal. Hooper’s presence cut into Njoku’s opportunities, but in tagging the latter ahead of the March deadline, the Browns signaled they still believed in the younger player’s potential. Njoku headlines a Cleveland tight end depth chart that includes 2020 fourth-round pick Harrison Bryant. This contract makes it clear who the Browns will rely on at the position.
The Browns traded back into the 2017 first round, after having already selected two players that year (which included trading out of the Watson draft slot with the Texans), to nab Njoku with the No. 29 overall pick. Other than his 639-yard 2018 showing, Njoku has never taken off in Cleveland. His tenure also included a rocky stretch in 2020, when he requested a trade at multiple points after Hooper signed. The sides patched up their relationship, and Njoku did produce his second-best statistical season (475 yards, four touchdown catches) — as the Browns’ passing attack cratered — in 2021.
Amari Cooper is set to be the centerpiece of Cleveland’s passing attack, and Donovan Peoples-Jones is positioned to be the trade acquisition’s top complementary player. The team cut Jarvis Landry and, despite rumors about a reunion, let him sign with the Saints following the draft. Njoku will be poised to be a key target for Watson and, in all likelihood, Jacoby Brissett this season.
This still represents a big bet on the potential of a player who has not displayed consistency yet. This deal also stands to impact the negotiations for fellow franchise-tagged tight ends Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz. It will be interesting to see if it affects Darren Waller‘s approach with the Raiders. Going into his age-30 season, the former Pro Bowler is tied to a below-market $7.6MM-per-year pact.