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David Njoku

Browns give surprising contract to lightly used tight end

As JuJu Smith-Schuster once said, “The Browns is the Browns.” Two months after giving a fully guaranteed $230 million contract to a quarterback who might miss half of the 2022 season, Cleveland is paying David Njoku like a franchise tight end.

It seems weird. For much of the last two years, Njoku was mentioned in trade rumors. Instead, they franchise tagged him and now have given him a four-year contract worth $57 million. His annual averages slots him behind George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Dallas Goedert and Mark Andrews.

The Browns clearly value the position. Back in 2020, they signed Austin Hooper to a four-year deal worth $42 million. That was an eyebrow raiser, and it didn’t age well, with Hooper released after two years.

This time it’s Njoku (who was supposed to be the tight end Hooper made expendable).

Some of these deals, of course, get thrown out before they’re completed. The Spotrac website (which listed financials on all contracts) indicates that it could eventually change to a three-year deal worth about $39 million. For Njoku to get the full $57 million, the Browns will have to still like the way he’s playing in 2024.

Njoku is a freaky athlete. He was a national-caliber high jumper when he was in high school. As you can see in the photo, he’s not skipping many workouts – looks like he’s chiseled out of granite. The Browns picked him in the first round in 2017.

But Njoku hasn’t been very productive. He’s never caught more than 4 TDs in a season, and he’s caught more than 36 passes only once. His most productive season came back in 2018, when he caught 56 passes for 639 yards and 4 TDs.

They just haven’t used him much. There was weird deal last year where Njoku looked like an All-Pro in a Week 5 game against the Chargers, with 7 catches for 149 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown. But he then didn’t have 40 yards in any of his remaining 11 games – reached 30 yards in only two of them. He caught 22 passes in his final 11 games.

In the final 13 weeks of the 2022 season, 30 tight ends started at least half the season and averaged better per-game numbers than Njoku (using PPR scoring).

Tough one to figure. One can only hope that when they get Watson behind center, they’re passing a lot more and Njoku starts to blossom.

TIGHT ENDS, PER-GAME PRODUCTION (Weeks 6-18)
RkPlayerStRecYdsTD2ptPPR
1.Mark Andrews, Balt.12789617018.01
2.Travis Kelce, K.C.11627596015.81
3.George Kittle, S.F.10526946015.74
4.Rob Gronkowski, T.B.9396182012.53
5.Zach Ertz, Ariz.12606074012.06
6.T.J. Hockenson, Det.7373462011.94
7.Dallas Goedert, Phil.10416142111.64
8.Pat Freiermuth, Pitt.11493976111.52
9.Dalton Schultz, Dall.12525285111.40
10.Darren Waller, L.V.6273460010.27
11.Tyler Higbee, LAR10443943010.14
12.Noah Fant, Den.1147494209.85
13.Kyle Pitts, Atl.1244718009.65
14.Mike Gesicki, Mia.1251553119.53
15.Hunter Henry, N.E.1230387709.23
16.Dawson Knox, Buff.1031330408.80
17.Cole Kmet, Chi.1250531008.59
18.Gerald Everett, Sea.1240421308.34
19.C.J. Uzomah, Cin.1138343308.21
20.Jared Cook, LAC1131354328.04
21.Tyler Conklin, Min.1242424208.03
22.Dan Arnold, Jac.620231017.52
23.Evan Engram, NYG1235305306.96
24.Adam Trautman, N.O.821199206.61
25.Brevin Jordan, Hou.920178306.20
26.Foster Moreau, L.V.1227331206.01
27.Ricky Seals-Jones, Was.822192105.90
28.Ryan Griffin, NYJ919212205.80
29.Austin Hooper, Cle.1127248205.80
30.Albert Okwuegbunam, Den.1024273105.73
31.David Njoku, Cle.1122216305.60
32.Geoff Swaim, Ten.1126173305.57
33.Cameron Brate, T.B.1222161405.18
34.Durham Smythe, Mia.1229322005.10
35.Josiah Deguara, G.B.1224241205.01

—Ian Allan

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