David Njoku

Browns’ David Njoku Wants Extension

It sounds like David Njoku wants to stick with the Browns after all. Despite his previous trade demands (and flip-flops on the matter), the tight end says he wants to move forward with Cleveland

I’ve been here (Cleveland) for four years going on five,” Njoku said on Friday. “I don’t know anything different. I want to keep being here.”

Njoku pushed for a trade last summer and doubled down prior to the 2020 trade deadline. He also made it sound like he wanted out as recently as February. However, it seems like Njoku is now in a good place with the Browns.

The Browns signed Austin Hooper to a big contract last year and drafted Harrison Bryant, which reduced Njoku’s role in the offense. He finished out 2020 with just 19 catches for 213 yards and one touchdown. That was a far cry from his best work in 2018 — 56 grabs for 639 yards and four TDs. In between, he lost most of 2019 to injury.

While he’s shown plenty of flashes of potential, the U of M product has yet to live up to his first-round status. But, despite all the drama and the crowded TE chart, the Browns still opted to exercise his fifth-year option. For now, he’s got one year and ~$6MM to go on his deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

David Njoku ‘In A Good Place’ With Browns

There’s been a lot of drama with David Njoku and the Browns over the past year. The young tight end requested a trade last July, then rescinded that request in August. In October, he once again changed his mind and asked to be traded around the deadline.

No trade materialized, with Cleveland reportedly not wanting to deal him. Just when it seemed like everything had calmed down, Njoku fanned the flames once again in February by responding very cryptically to an interviewer asking about his future with the team.

However, it seems like things have now been patched over. The Browns have “weathered the storm” and Njoku is now “in a good place with the franchise,” a source told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Cleveland signed Austin Hooper to a big contract and drafted Harrison Bryant, which reduced Njoku’s role and made him unhappy. The Browns drafted the Miami product 29th overall back in 2017. While he’s shown plenty of flashes of potential, he hasn’t lived up to first-round status.

In 2018 he appeared on the verge of breaking out, racking up 639 yards and four touchdowns. Injuries then limited him to only four games in 2019, and he caught only 19 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite all the drama, Njoku is slated to make a little over $6MM this season after Cleveland picked up his fifth-year option last year. It’ll be the final year of his rookie deal. Njoku was drafted very young so he’s still only 24, and has all the theoretical potential in the world. 2021 is shaping up to be a make or break year for him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Kyle Rudolph Interested In Joining Browns

Following the Vikings’ decision to part ways with Kyle Rudolph, he is a first-time free agent. The veteran tight end would not mind linking up with a longtime Vikings assistant.

Rudolph is interested in joining the Browns, with Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com noting the 10-year pass catcher would “love” to rejoin Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland. Stefanski was with Minnesota for Rudolph’s first nine seasons. The reigning NFL Coach of the Year worked as the Vikings’ OC in 2019 and served as Rudolph’s position coach from 2014-15.

The Browns gave Austin Hooper a $10.5MM-AAV deal at free agency’s outset last year and have David Njoku under contract for 2021, having picked up the former first-rounder’s fifth-year option. However, Njoku did not play a major role in Stefanski’s offense last season.

Over the past two seasons, Njoku has just 24 receptions. The four-year Browns contributor is sounding like the team may move on from him (Twitter link), potentially via trade or release. He requested a trade last year but moved off that stance, but his future in Cleveland still appears murky. Since Njoku is a 2017 first-round pick, his fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only. A Njoku release would create just more than $6MM in cap space for the Browns.

Far and away the leading touchdown scorer (among tight ends) in Vikings history, Rudolph scored six in Stefanski’s offense in 2019 and added a playoff walk-off soon after. The two-time Pro Bowler, however, has not eclipsed 400 receiving yards since the 2018 season. At 31, the 6-foot-6 talent still figures to receive interest. He was involved in trade rumors during the 2019 draft and ahead of the 2020 trade deadline.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Murray, Njoku, Contracts

Before he was the first overall pick of the Cardinals in the 2019 NFL Draft, Kyler Murray was the ninth overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s. Then he went on to win the Heisman Trophy, causing him to rocket up NFL draft boards. Even after winning the Heisman Murray initially was reported to be pursuing baseball over football, but obviously that changed when it became clear just how high he’d be drafted. We haven’t heard a ton about his baseball passions since, but he made it clear he isn’t over the game in interviews this past week. “I would love to” play baseball again one day Murray said on The Pat McAfee Show, via Jeremy Cluff of the Arizona Republic. “I think it’s still there because I’ve been doing it my whole life. It wasn’t like I have to turn this off to be elite at football.”

When asked if he could see himself playing football and baseball at the same time one day soon, Murray said “I hope so. I hope so. I mean, I would love to. I think that would be good for everybody … I think it is tough because I play quarterback.” He also added that walking away from Oakland was “definitely the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.” The Cardinals likely aren’t as enthused about the possibility, and it’s specifically in his contract that he’s not allowed to play baseball. Maybe when it comes time for Murray to get a contract extension from Arizona, he’ll look to negotiate a clause that allows him to try his hand at baseball? It’s certainly fun to think about, and I think every fan would be hoping he can become the next Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders.

Here’s more from around the league as we officially turn our attention toward the offseason:

  • David Njoku had a rocky season with the Browns, even as the team had their most success in decades. The drafting of Harrison Bryant and signing of Austin Hooper reduced his role on offense, and Njoku demanded to be traded this past summer, then changed his mind on that demand, then apparently changed his mind once again and wanted to be traded in October. Obviously Cleveland didn’t want to deal him, and it looked like everything had more or less been worked out, but Njoku fanned the flames again this past week. “That’s a good question,” Njoku said recently on the Jim Rome Show when asked if he’s in the right spot, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “I’m not going to answer that right now. I have no comment towards that at this moment,” Njoku said cryptically. The 29th overall pick of the 2017 draft added that everything would work itself out in the “near future.” Thanks to his fifth-year option the tight end is under contract for 2021 at a hair over $6MM, although that’s not guaranteed. If they choose to keep him at that number, it sounds like another trade request could be in the cards.
  • Reserve/futures deals are non-guaranteed pacts to keep unheralded players a part of a team’s offseason 90-man roster, so they usually don’t come with any bonuses or guaranteed money. When they do, that makes them a lot more notable, and Field Yates of ESPN.com recently tweeted out this cycle’s biggest. Cornerback Grant Haley got $35.7K from the Saints, safety Marqui Christian and cornerback Xavier Crawford got $35K and $31.3K respectively from the Bears, long snapper Dan Godsil got $27.4K from the Bengals, and tight end Tyree Jackson got $25.2K from the Eagles while punter Arryn Siposs got $25K from Philly. All these guys would seem to have a better than normal chance of cracking next year’s 53. Haley saw a lot of run his first two years in the league with the Giants, and was up and down from New Orleans’ practice squad in 2020. If Cincy is giving a reserve/futures long snapper $25K, you’ve gotta figure they think there’s a good chance he’s their guy next year. Jackson is a notable name since he’s the former University of Buffalo star quarterback who has since transitioned to tight end.
  • Speaking of relatively minor contracts, Yates also tweeted the details for the recent extensions for Raiders quarterback Nathan Peterman and 49ers long snapper Taybor Pepper. Peterman got a guaranteed $1MM base salary on his one-year deal, a $25K workout bonus, and a max value of $2.775MM with incentives. Pepper got two-years, $2.08MM with an $80K signing bonus and $220K of his $920K salary for 2021 guaranteed. It’s pretty eyebrow-raising to see Peterman get his $1MM guaranteed considering he’s thrown all of five passes the past two seasons, but Jon Gruden clearly loves the guy. This would suggest he’s got a good shot to hold the clipboard for Derek Carr, or whoever is the Raiders’ starter next year.

Trade Rumors: Thomas, Njoku, Watt, Jets

Saints head coach Sean Payton has said his team has no interest in trading star receiver Michael Thomas, though Thomas’ camp was recently said to be looking for potential deals. There has been no movement towards a Thomas trade, and whether that’s because New Orleans has no interest in dealing him or because the club has not received an offer it likes, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com says Thomas will stay put.

With the trade deadline two days away, let’s round up a few more rumors on players who could be on the move:

  • The Browns don’t want to trade tight end David Njoku, but Njoku has renewed his request to be dealt, and Rapoport says Cleveland has been fielding calls on the former first-rounder. It may take at least a fourth-round pick to get a deal done, but with Austin Hooper set to return and with the emergence of rookie Harrison Bryant, the Browns may elect to move Njoku.
  • Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes that the Texans are at the center of the trade market, with one executive saying Houston could move as many as five players if it wants to. Rapoport expects the Packersinterest in Will Fuller — which dates back to the summer — to ramp up, but it will likely take a high pick to convince the Texans to move Fuller. Fellow WR Kenny Stills has also drawn some interest, though rival clubs see the contracts for Stills and Randall Cobb as prohibitive. DE J.J. Watt may be receptive to a trade, but considering his contract and age, other teams probably don’t value him like the Texans do.
  • The Jets have received calls on LB Avery Williamson, OTs George Fant and Chuma Edoga, and CB Quincy Wilson, per Albert Breer of SI.com. Rich Cimini of ESPN.com says the Steelers — who recently lost Devin Bush for the season — could be in the market for Williamson, and Edoga also seems like a good bet to be dealt since he does not look like a fit with the current regime.
  • La Canfora says teams have also called the Jets about WR Breshad Perriman and TE Chris Herndon, though Breer notes that safety Marcus Maye has not drawn much interest.
  • Rapoport names Dolphins RB Jordan Howard and Seahawks TE Jacob Hollister as two other players who could be moved. And though the Bengals are shopping disgruntled wideout John Ross, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com says there hasn’t been interest in Ross (Twitter link).

David Njoku Wants To Be Traded Again

David Njoku has changed his mind once again. The Browns’ tight end originally requested to be traded back in July, only to rescind that request in August.

He has apparently now flipped back the other way, as a source told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com that Njoku once again wants to be dealt. Kay Cabot writes that so far the Browns haven’t been inclined to trade him, but that could change if they get a good offer. The trade deadline is November 3rd, two weeks from tomorrow. The 29th overall pick of the 2017 draft, Njoku had three catches for 50 yards in Cleveland’s opener before going down with a knee injury.

He missed the next three games, but has been back for the last couple, only racking up two catches for 13 yards the last two weeks. The Browns like to use a lot of multiple tight end sets, but the offseason signing of Austin Hooper and drafting of Harrison Bryant in the fourth-round have made Njoku more expendable.

The Miami product has all the physical skills in the world, but he’s been unable to harness his athletic potential consistently. He looked to be on the verge of a breakout in 2018 when he started a full season and had 56 catches for 639 yards and four touchdowns, but a broken wrist limited him to just four games last year.

The new regime has no real ties to Njoku, and there’s been a clear rift for a while. They picked up his fifth-year option this past offseason, which is only guaranteed for injury.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

IR/Activation Notes: Njoku, 49ers, Rams, Giants

David Njoku is back. The Browns announced this morning that they’ve activated the tight end from the injured reserve.

The 24-year-old suffered a knee injury during Cleveland’s season opener, and he was subsequently placed on IR. He was designated for return earlier this week, and coach Kevin Stefanski indicated that Njoku would see the field sooner than later. The tight end had three receptions for 50 yards and one touchdown in Week 1, surpassing some of the totals he compiled during his injury-plagued 2019 campaign.

Njoku requested a trade back in July, only to rescind it in early August. While the former first-rounder sits behind free agent addition Austin Hooper on the depth chart (and has to battle the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Kareem Hunt for targets), Njoku should still see a role in the offense going forward.

Let’s check out some more IR/activation notes from around the NFL…

  • The 49ers‘ injury woes continue, as Matt Barrows of The Athletic reports (via Twitter) that defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (biceps) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (knee/hip) are heading to the IR. Ansah joined San Francisco in late September, and he’s proceeded to appear in two games. He spent the 2019 campaign with the Seahawks, finishing with 18 tackles, two forced fumbles, and 2.5 sacks. Williams has spent the past three-plus seasons with the 49ers, and he’s started two of his four appearances this season. Fortunately, there is some good news out of San Francisco, as head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will start Sunday against the Dolphins (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Twitter). Garoppolo has missed the past two-plus games, with the team mostly turning to Nick Mullens in his stead.
  • 2020 third-round pick Terrell Lewis could make his debut for the Rams this weekend. Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweets that the rookie linebacker has been activated off the IR. Following a stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Lewis underwent a knee scope just before the start of the season. The former Alabama standout could immediately see some time on the edge for the Rams.
  • The Giants placed linebacker Oshane Ximines on IR with a shoulder injury, reports SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano (via Twitter). The 2019 third-rounder saw time in all 16 games as a rookie, finishing with 4.5 sacks. He started three of the Giants first four games in 2020, collecting five tackles.

Browns Place David Njoku On IR

The Browns have placed tight end David Njoku on the injured reserve list, per a club announcement. The good news is that Njoku is expected to miss only three weeks with a with a sprained MCL, according to a source who spoke with ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). 

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Njoku reeled in three catches for 50 yards before exiting Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. His one-yard touchdown catch represented their only score in the 38-6 drumming. The Browns will now lean even more on No. 1 TE Austin Hooper, with support from fourth-round rookie Harrison Bryant and Stephen Carlson.

Njoku missed more than half of the 2019 season with a broken wrist. Now, he’s out for at least the next few games against the Bengals, the Washington Football Team, and the Cowboys. He’ll be eligible to return on Oct. 11, when the Browns face the Colts in Cleveland.

The 24-year-old requested a trade in July, only to rescind it in early August. With a backseat to Hooper, Njoku is under contract through 2021, with manageable salaries of $1.76MM this season and $6MM next year. When he returns, he’ll look to get back to the form he exhibited in 2018 when he tallied 56 grabs for 639 yards and four scores.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

David Njoku Retracts Trade Request

David Njoku is again committed to playing for the Browns. The fourth-year tight end has retracted his trade request, per agent Drew Rosenhaus (Twitter link via cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot).

The former first-round pick requested a trade almost a month ago. More recently, the ex-Miami Hurricane said he loved Cleveland but cryptically noted the NFL brings “complications.” After some meetings with Browns brass, including GM Andrew Berry, Njoku has recommitted to the team.

Njoku’s dissatisfaction was believed to predate the Browns’ decision to give Austin Hooper a then-tight end-record salary in March. Kevin Stefanski said this week he is eager to work with Njoku, who was drafted two regimes ago. Berry, however, was with the Browns when Sashi Brown selected him.

Despite a disappointing season that resulted in yet another regime change, the Browns return a deep array of skill-position options. While Njoku is on the low end of that group, the Browns picked up his fifth-year option in May. He is under contract through 2021, with manageable salaries of $1.76MM this season and $6MM next year.

The 24-year-old pass-catcher is coming off an injury-marred season. A concussion and a broken wrist sent Njoku to IR in September. He ended up catching just five passes for 41 yards in his third NFL season. He fared much better in 2018, however, hauling in 56 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns.

Had the Browns kept John Dorsey in place as GM, Njoku may well be out of the picture. But with Berry back in Cleveland, he will have another chance and is on track to work in Stefanski’s two-tight end formations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Burrow, Ravens

The Browns have not honored David Njoku‘s trade request. The former first-round pick enters his fourth season in Cleveland, and while Kevin Stefanski said he had not spoken with Njoku in several weeks, the first-year Browns coach noted he is eager to work with him.

My stance hasn’t changed. The organization’s stance hasn’t changed in that we believe in David, excited to work with him,” Stefanski said, via cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “I’ll get to finally be in the same room as him this weekend as he is coming in for physicals and then get out on the field with him Monday.”

Njoku has not lived up to his Round 1 billing yet, leading the Browns to give Austin Hooper a tight end-record contract. While Njoku’s unhappiness was reported to predate the team’s Hooper addition, he tweeted that he “loves Cleveland” while noting the game includes “a lot of complications.” Regardless, Njoku is set to earn $1.76MM this season. The Browns picked up his fifth-year option (worth $6MM) but can cut bait on that cost before the 2021 league year.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • Despite the COVID-19 pandemic preventing teams from conducting on-field workouts throughout the offseason, the Browns have not changed their plan at tackle. First-round pick Jedrick Wills will begin his career as Cleveland’s starting left tackle, Stefanski adds. The Alabama product will make the interesting transition from college right tackle to NFL left tackle. Recently signed free agent Jack Conklin, a college left tackle, will continue his NFL right tackle work.
  • The Browns hired former Vikings QBs coach Kevin Rogers as a senior offensive assistant. Rogers was with the Vikings from 2006-10, which doubled as Stefanski’s first five years with the franchise, but has not coached since 2016. Rogers, 68, spent decades at the college level. He worked as the offensive coordinator for Syracuse (1991-98), Notre Dame (1999-2001) and Boston College (2011). His most recent gig was at alma mater William & Mary; that four-year stay ended after the 2016 season.
  • The Ravens will use Jimmy Smith in a matchup-based capacity. They are trying their longtime starting cornerback at safety and in the slot, John Harbaugh said. As of now, there is no plan to permanently move the veteran corner to safety. The Ravens are deep at cornerback, with Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and slot man Tavon Young back in the fold. Young, however, has missed two of the past three full seasons. Harbaugh said the fifth-year corner is back to 100% after a neck injury last summer.
  • Ravens rookie UDFA tight end Jacob Breeland will miss the 2020 season, Harbaugh confirmed. The Oregon product was one of the top contenders for Baltimore’s No. 3 tight end spot, per The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec (subscription required).
  • As expected, Joe Burrow‘s rookie year will consist of on-the-job training. The Bengals will not give one of their more experienced QBs the first snaps as their starter in training camp. Burrow will take them, Zac Taylor said, per Marisa Contipelli of Bengals.com (on Twitter). Cincinnati returns 2019 draftee Ryan Finley and agreed to terms with fifth-year quarterback Brandon Allen, who worked with Taylor in Los Angeles.