The Cleveland Browns continue working toward a multiyear deal with one of the premier pass catchers on their roster, but the road ahead remains long.
Cleveland applied its 2022 franchise tag David Njoku to keep the tight end from exploring the free agent market as they continue to work on a long-term contract. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Wednesday, May 18, that the team has extended Njoku that offer at a significant annual salary but to this point, he has yet to agree.
“The Browns showed they value Njoku this offseason by making him a long-term contract offer,” Fowler wrote. “The buzz around the league is the offer values more than $13 million per year, an impressive number for someone with just 1,754 receiving yards over five seasons. However, Njoku appears poised for a breakout with [Deshaun] Watson as the new quarterback in Cleveland.”
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TE David Njoku Has Turned Down at Least 1 Offer From Browns
Njoku has indicated that he is interested in re-signing with Cleveland for the long haul, but he continues to play hardball when it comes to contract negotiations.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday, May 19, via a Twitter spaces podcast with Offseason Chopz that Njoku turned down an offer of more than $13 million annually before the Browns franchise tagged him.
“Njoku turned down $13.5 million per year before tag,” Offseason Chopz tweeted.
Fowler indicated that the devil may be in the details when it comes to the contract negotiation impasse between the tight end and the team, perhaps involving the number of years or how much of Njoku’s money is tied to incentives.
“Now, the details, such as contract structure and guarantees, will tell the true story of how strong that offer really is,” Fowler wrote. “So this could play out like a standoff: If Njoku waits the Browns out, bringing things up against the July 15 deadline, will they sweeten the offer? Or will Njoku eventually just take what’s on the table?”
Fowler added that at least a potential offseason holdout may be in the works.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stay away from offseason workouts to press the issue,” he wrote.
Njoku Is Critical Piece to Browns’ Revamped Offense
Njoku has some leverage, after the Browns parted ways with the highly paid Austin Hooper. Hooper came over from the Atlanta Falcons two years ago on the heels of two Pro-Bowl seasons but never panned out in Cleveland.
Hooper’s departure has left Njoku as the Browns’ clear No. 1 option at tight end, which makes him a crucial element for the offense as a whole. Cleveland pushed all its proverbial chips into the pot when the team signed Watson in a move to upgrade from four-year starting quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Browns traded for former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper to provide their new signal caller with a top-end wide receiver, then drafted David Bell out of Purdue University in the third round to replace the departed Jarvis Landry who will play next season for the New Orleans Saints.
The Browns could still make a play for another talented wideout, with free agents like Julio Jones or Watson’s former Houston Texans teammate Will Fuller still available on what would likely be one-year deals at value. But even if Cleveland makes a move to add another wide receiver, a quality tight end will be vital to the team’s success in a stacked AFC.
Having franchised Njoku at just shy of $11 million, the Browns guarantee he will be rostered in 2022, though there is no guarantee he will play without a long-term deal. Making that choice would cost the tight end his salary, and while it’s a move that the unhappily franchised often threaten, it’s rarely one that’s actually made when there are millions of dollars at stake.
Regardless of tactics, the best outcome for both sides is to reach a long-term agreement this offseason. But as Fowler reported, whatever deal they do reach may not be finalized for months.