The Cleveland Browns have a talented tight end group, but certainly one that has room to increase their contributions in the 2021 season. The combination of Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant not only gives the Browns depth, but options at an important position within their offense.
Despite going through this exact same scenario last year, there's this push that suggests the Browns should trade David Njoku. Some of the reasons are the same as last year.
Njoku requested a trade, which some refuse to accept. And after the Browns turned down his request, Njoku went out, worked hard and grew as a player. The last thing anyone would want is to have that happen again.
It's also important to understand why Njoku requested a trade in the first place. He doesn't dislike Cleveland, the team, the coaches or his teammates. It's the opposite. All Njoku wants is to play and to maximize his earning power. He's basically every person who has ever played sports or had ambitions for their own career.
If Njoku can achieve those things in Cleveland, all indications are he'd be happy. He gave a pretty revealing interview to Jim Rome on this exact issue. It drew headlines because Njoku said he didn't know if he wanted to stay with the Browns, but it boiled down to the fact he wasn't sure where he stood with the Browns relative to his goals.
Every other aspect of the interview in talking about the season and his team was glowing. Austin Hooper is one of his best friends. He loved getting to experience the playoffs and wants to go back. Njoku didn't request a trade to get away from Cleveland. He's simply someone who understands that his opportunity to cash in as an NFL player is limited and he doesn't want to miss it. It's not difficult to understand why that would leave him feeling like he wants more certainty about his future.
If the Browns were to trade him, it would almost certainly be for a player that can help them win now. A day three draft pick doesn't help them now, so that's not an incentive to move him.
Neither is his salary.
Austin Hooper is set to earn $8.25 million while Harrison Bryant's salary for 2021 is $927,251. Those three combined would earn a grand total of $15,190,251.
Odell Beckham is scheduled to earn $15.75 million in 2021. Jarvis Landry is set to earn $14.73 million in 2021. The Browns will likely be approaching both about restructuring their deals, but as it stands right now, the three tight ends together add up to just one of their wide receiver contracts.
Case Keenum, the backup quarterback and another player who should have his contract extended to reduce his overall salary is scheduled to make $7.33 million in 2021.
When the Browns need to create salary cap space, there are a long list of players that could talk to before getting to Njoku.
There's also this strange notion that the Browns didn't use Njoku enough in 2020, so that's a reason to trade him. Beyond the fact the Browns were missing both Hooper and Bryant at points this season where they genuinely needed Njoku to play, they used all three a significant amount.
Hooper played in 13 regular season games in 2020. He was in on 79.2 percent of the offensive snaps in those games.
Bryant played in 15 regular season games in 2020. He was in on 69.5 percent of offensive snaps in those games.
So yes, Njoku was on the field the least of the tight ends, but he was still out there almost half the time.
Frankly, the Browns should have used him more than they did, particularly in the passing game. The Browns did correct this in the playoffs.
After only catching 19 passes in the regular season, Njoku caught five of six targets in the playoffs for 66 yards, including 59 yards in the divisional round against the Kansas City Chiefs where he was arguably the best weapon on the Browns. He looked the part of a top tight end in that game.
The Browns did not utilize him enough in 2020. They have an opportunity to remedy that in 2021. And if he's great, the Browns can absolutely sign him to the lucrative contract extension he seeks, which should alleviate the issues that led him to request the trade in the first place.
In the event they were to let Njoku walk, they would be in position to recoup a compensatory pick, which could be a better selection than what they'd get for him now in a trade. The pick would be deferred for a year but they'd get one more year from a good player.
Njoku is still just 24 years old (turns 25 in June) and offers them a significant amount of talent. He's easily the best athlete they have at the position and went from a solid blocker to a dominant one last year. Nothing forces them to trade Njoku, so unless they get a trade offer that's too good to pass up, they have every incentive to keep him and see if he can become a franchise tight end that forces them to sign him to a longer term deal.