In a somewhat surprising move the Browns have designated tight end David Njoku as a franchise player.
The Browns have designated TE David Njoku for the franchise tag, source confirms to @usatodaysports. Emphasis in organization that there's still time to negotiate long-term extension.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) March 7, 2022
Njoku was drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL draft by the Browns and has had a pretty uneven start to his career. His peak season came in 2018 when Njoku had 56 receptions for 639 yards. 2020 was a disaster for Njoku as he started just 5 games and had just 213 receiving yards after seeking a trade that seemingly went nowhere. He did bounce back in 2021 with 11 starts and 46 receptions for 475 yards.
As far as franchise tag decisions go I have to imagine three things were in play here. The main one is probably the tight end market itself being so cluttered that performance really has not meant much in the overall salary picture. Njoku can easily argue he is as productive in the Browns offense as Austin Hooper who earns $10.5 million a season. With the cost of the tag being between $10.8 and $10.9 million it is justifiable within the market especially if they are considering an extension with him. By tagging him they have until July 15 to work out a long term deal.
The second thing is the common “bet on talent” consideration so many teams make. As a 1st round pick Njoku stands out among many other players at the position. Finally you have the state of the Browns receiving corps which is pretty poor. There should be a good chance they release Jarvis Landry and perhaps they also dump Hooper who has not performed as a receiver in that offense the way he was expected to when signed as a free agent.
Still this illustrates the wackiness of the tag itself. The franchise tag was never meant for a player like Njoku, but the way it is calculated makes the numbers low enough to where you can make an argument that it makes sense to use. This is why it is so prohibitive for star players because the gap in pay between a franchise tag and what they would earn on a mediocre contract extension is pretty big in most cases.