Cleveland Browns general manager will spend some of his time at this week’s NFL Scouting Combine talking with agents of the team’s current players who are set to be free agents.
One of those players is tight end David Njoku, who will be an unrestricted free agent if the Browns do not work out a new deal with him before free agency opens on March 16.
According to a report by Mike Kaye at Pro Football Network, the discussion with Njoku could center on Berry deciding to use the franchise tag to keep Njoku in town.
#Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki and #Browns TE David Njoku are viewed as franchise-tag candidates by their respective clubs, per league source.— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) February 28, 2022
More on what that could mean for a stacked market at the position:https://t.co/h4giT7F9A5
According to Kaye, who cites an unnamed league source, Njoku and Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki are both viewed as “candidates” to be franchise tagged before the NFL-mandated deadline of March 8.
This year’s franchise tag number for tight ends is $10.834 million for one year, which according to Kaye’s source “is a very reasonable number in the current tight end market.”
The one-year salary for a tagged player is fully guaranteed, and the dollar amount is calculated by taking the average of the top five highest-paid players at their respective position.
Tagging a player also allows a team to have more time to work on a long-term contract with the player. The deadline for a team and a tagged player to sign a multi-year deal is July 15, and over the past seven years about half of the tagged players in the NFL worked out an extension with their current team, according to The Sporting News.
So what does that mean for Njoku and the Browns?
The pro-Njoku camp is firm in the belief that he is equal to the game’s top tight ends, players like Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, and the Browns should pay Njoku whatever it takes to keep him in town.
Njoku’s raw numbers might not match the production of that group, but his supporters believe that has everything to do with a simple lack of opportunity, rather than any shortcomings on the part of Njoku. And he is a solid contributor in the run game, which is nice on a team that employs running back Nick Chubb.
The anti-Njoku crowd has always held it against him that he was drafted by then-general manager Sashi Brown, and point to injuries that have limited Njoku’s availability, most notably in 2019 when he only played in four games, and struggles with catching the ball early in his career.
Plus, projected stats only go so far in the eyes of some, as the numbers a player finishes the season with are his numbers, as opposed to playing the “if he had the same number of targets as player x” game.
The truth, at least from where Berry is sitting, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Teams like players selected in the first round to play well enough to earn a second contract after investing five years of time with a player. Some, like defensive end Myles Garrett, are ready to go right out of the box. Others, like Njoku, need time to develop their skills.
Outside of that one season, Njoku has been healthy enough to play in 61 out of a possible 65 games, so his durability is not a question.
He has also caught a combined 67 percent of the passes thrown his way the past two seasons, which is on par, or at least close enough, to the career catch rate of Kelce (70.8 percent), Andrews (67.6 percent) and Kittle (72.4 percent).
Njoku is also clearly the best tight end on the roster, but that might not carry as much weight as his supporters would like others to believe since the competition is Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant.
So what is the hesitation on the Browns part that might make them use the franchise tag on Njoku?
It could be as simple as they want to keep Njoku but are still working to figure out his true value.
Spotrac.com’s market value estimator places Njoku’s value at a four-year deal with an average salary of a bit more than $6.7 million, which is a long way from the $14 million-plus that the league’s top tight ends currently bring down on an annual basis.
Letting Njoku test the market, however, could result in another team giving him the type of deal that the Browns might not be comfortable matching.
The franchise tag would help find that middle ground between $6.7 million and $14 million, while giving Berry and Njoku’s agents time to either work out an extension this summer, or wait until after next season to see if Njoku’s puts up the type of season that makes it a no-brainer to pay him top dollar.