In a not too surprising development, Browns Tight End David Njoku has asked to be traded before the start of training camp.
1/2 Browns’ TE David Njoku and his agent Drew Rosenhaus asked today for the team to trade him. The Browns told Njoku they would like to keep him, but Rosenhaus told them he’s intent on a trade. They want a trade before training camp.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 3, 2020
The Browns signed free agent Austin Hooper to a $10.5 million per year contract, the largest contract for a tight end in NFL history, which immediately put Njoku’s status for the year in doubt. Though Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been known to favor utilizing two tight ends in his offense the trade request really should come as no surprise.
Njoku is entering a critical period for his future. This is the final year of his original rookie contract with a $6.013 million option year kicking in if he is on the roster on the first day of free agency in 2021. Njoku is a former first round draft pick but thus far has had an uneventful start to his career, peaking with 639 yards in 2018 and then struggling through an injury plagued 2019 where he averaged just 10 yards per game.
For Njoku to hit the option year and put himself in play for a significant extension he needs to get the opportunity to, at the least, get back to the kind of numbers he put up in 2018 while being able to flash the athleticism that made him a 1st round pick. With only so many balls to go around this year on an offense that will feature Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and Hooper it is hard to picture that happening in 2020.
Though Stefanski may favor the two tight end approach, in his time in Minnesota there was really only one season in which one tight end put up the kind of season that would get people excited in free agency (Kyle Rudolph had 840 yards in 2016). Most years the top tight end is going to put up around 500 yards which is not a game changer at all.
You can get by at the position if teams around the NFL feel that you are being tied to the bench because there is a superior player on the team (i.e. Trey Burton in Philadelphia) but with the current memory of Njoku being that injury filled year he really needs to be a featured talent on an offense.
Njoku would be very cheap this year for a team at a salary of just $1.74 million and if he plays well would easily be worth the $6 million option year. He is the kind of player that teams would usually take a risk of sorts on but the question is what the Browns would want and what the market would be willing to trade.
The Ravens this past year received a 2nd round pick for Hayden Hurst, a similar 1st round disappointment who had fallen out of favor in Baltimore. Hurst had two years remaining on his contract plus an option year at the time of trade which should make him more appealing to a trade partner than Njoku who has just one year and the option. I would guess that would drop the Browns expectation to a 3rd round pick.
It’s possible that the compensation could drop even further since Njoku is actively seeking to be traded and the Covid crisis should also put many question marks on the year. While Covid existed during the Hurst trade the NFL seemingly did not take any of it as seriously as they have started to now. No team wants to give up anything significant if there is a chance that Njoku’s lone cheap year could be wasted on a 4 or 6 game season.