The Browns are betting big on tight end David Njoku.
Earlier in the summer, Njoku and the Browns agreed to a contract extension worth nearly $57 million over four years.
In addition, around half of the contract — $28 million — is fully guaranteed.
It’s a massive wager on a guy who has shown flashes over his five years in Cleveland.
But is 2022-23 the season Njoku finally puts it all together?
According to Anthony Poisal of clevelandbrowns.com, both Njoku and fellow TE Harrison Bryant could be in line for bigger roles on the Browns’ offense:
“Njoku and [Harrison] Bryant could both see higher snap totals than previous seasons. Njoku played around 65 percent of snaps last season, and Bryant was around 40 percent. Njoku’s big contract extension suggests he’ll be even more used as a key offensive weapon, and Bryant, a 2020 fourth-round pick, now has two years of experience and could be ready for a bigger role.”
If Njoku does indeed see a bigger role on offense, his numbers should certainly pick up.
Add in the fact that he’s no longer sharing snaps with Austin Hooper, who departed via free agency, to the growing list of reasons why Njoku’s time is now.
Now that he has his big contract, is #Browns TE David Njoku poised for a breakout season and make a Pro Bowl?pic.twitter.com/h4yRIxfYzX
— Titan Up the Dawg Pound Podcast (@titan_dawg21) July 2, 2022
One of the biggest factors that could determine Njoku’s success this season is out of his hands entirely.
The quarterback situation for Cleveland is a mess, to say the least.
Baker Mayfield is still rostered, rumors that Deshaun Watson will never play for the Browns are tangled in rumors that Watson will see plenty of time this season, and Jacoby Brissett is not the league’s most trustworthy passer.
The flashes shown by Njoku have been mouth-watering at times.
But they’ve been mostly just that: flashes.
With his shiny new contract, Njoku is getting paid like a top-five tight end.
But over his last two seasons, Njoku was hardly a top-fifteen talent, let alone top-five.
Across 29 games since 2020, Njoku has scored just six touchdowns and tallied only 688 yards.
In fairness, he started just 16 of those 29 games and made the most of his targets, averaging 12.2 yards per reception.
But that’s simply not enough to warrant his payday.
At least one fantasy site ranked Njoku as the 22nd best tight end heading into next season, sandwiched between Evan Engram and Gerald Everett.
By comparison, George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Dallas Goedert, whose salaries are in Njoku’s $14.2 million per year range, were each ranked as top-seven talents.
If Njoku shows out this season, few will worry about his contract.
Highest passer rating generated when targeted on 20+ yard throws last season
1️⃣ Dalton Schultz: 149.3
2️⃣ David Njoku: 137.5
3️⃣ Dawson Knox: 130.6 pic.twitter.com/ucI6hCqydQ
— PFF BUF Bills (@PFF_Bills) June 25, 2022
But as it stands, Njoku has a major mountain to climb to join the league’s TE elite.
Even if he only improves his play so that it’s on par with guys like Zach Ertz and Dalton Schultz, he’ll still be overpaid.
The Time Is Now
Regardless of who is under center next season, the pressure is on.
Not only is Njoku entering year six, but, as Poisal noted, the Browns have a young TE in Harrison Bryant that is surely breathing down Njoku’s neck.
So the big-season potential for Njoku is as much of a necessity for him as it is a want for the fans.
Coach Kevin Stefanski loves using his tight ends in creative ways.
And perhaps the increased workload unlocks a portion of Njoku’s game.
But it’s already a ton of money for a player who hasn’t made a single Pro Bowl in his five seasons.
If Njoku falls flat, the Browns will have made a multi-million dollar overinvestment.
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