In case you missed it, the Browns inked David Njoku.
The deal is worth up to $56.8 million over four years, with $28 million guaranteed.
A lot of ink, indeed.
Cleveland is hoping that Njoku will develop into a bonafide starter now that Austin Hooper is playing in Music City for the Titans.
The deal makes the former first-rounder one of the richest tight ends in the league.
But was the deal worth it?
A Look Around
Before making any official determinations, it merits a look around the current NFL tight end landscape.
The Browns have signed TE David Njoku to a four-year, $56.75M contract extension, per @RapSheet and @TomPelissero pic.twitter.com/ULk9F4rqpg
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) May 27, 2022
In recent years, a tight end has become critical to a team’s offensive scheme, arguably more important than even a running back.
Look at the most recent list of Super Bowl winners.
The Rams had Tyler Higbee – maybe not the best performer, but still a valuable contributor.
For a clearer example, the runners-up Bengals were hugely limited by CJ Uzomah’s lack of health for the big game.
The Buccaneers in ‘21 had an aging but effective Robert Gronkowski, the Chiefs the year before rode Travis Kelce, the Pats before them had a younger and stronger Gronk, and the Eagles in ‘18 relied on Zach Ertz.
As it stands, there’s an unquestionable top five: San Francisco’s George Kittle, Baltimore’s Mark Andrews, KC’s Kelce, Atlant’s Kyle Pitts, and Las Vegas’ Darren Waller.
That’s tier one.
Tier two consists of Detroit’s TJ Hockenson, Dallas’ Dalton Schultz, Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert, and Arizona’s Zach Ertz.
If you’re wondering when you’ll read Njoku’s name . . . buckle up.
ESPN rated Njoku as the 21st best tight end in the league heading into this season.
Granted, the rankings come in terms of Fantasy value, which doesn’t necessarily capture every tight end trait, like blocking, for instance.
And Njoku is a fairly effective blocker.
But he’s not a huge scorer or yards eater.
His four touchdowns in 2021-22 were tied for a career-high.
His 475 yards last campaign was in fact a career-high.
Let’s take Dallas Goedert, one of those tier-two guys mentioned above.
For comparison, the only season Goedert didn’t surpass 475 yards was back in ‘18, when he tallied only 334 (last season, he went for 830 yards in one fewer game than Njoku).
Again, not awesome.
How does Njoku’s salary stack up against those other tier-one and two tight ends?
Here are the nine highest NFL tight end salaries (minus Njoku’s) heading into 2022, per Yahoo Sports:
George Kittle: $15 million
Travis Kelce: $14.3 million
Dallas Goedert: $14.25 million
Mark Andrews: $14 million
Jonnu Smith: $12.5 million
Hunter Henry: $12.5 million
Mike Gesicki: $10.9 million
Dalton Schultz: $10.9 million
Zach Ertz: $10.6 million
Against these numbers, Njoku’s $14.1 million is hard to justify.
Contract: 1 year $3.5 million
Contract: 4 years, $56.75 million
— Andrew Cooper (@CoopAFiasco) May 28, 2022
Kittle, Kelce, Goedert, and Andrews each are a focal point of their teams’ respective offenses.
Njoku simply hasn’t proved he can be that on the Browns.
In essence, he’s being paid tier-one money despite never proving it on the field.
The Browns have to believe this is THE year for Njoku.
But it’s a story they’ve told themselves time and again.
In reality, Njoku has failed to stay healthy and failed to develop into a clear no. 1 option.
Here’s one caveat.
Njoku has backed up Austin Hooper for several seasons.
Granted, Hooper wasn’t gobbling up possessions, but the point remains.
After Zach Ertz left Philadelphia, Goedert stepped into the starting role for the Eagles and blossomed.
Perhaps Njoku will do the same?
The Browns front office must believe so.
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