The Cleveland Browns entered the 2021 season with the tight end room as one of their secret weapons.
At the forefront was two-time Pro Bowler Austin Hooper, signed for a King’s ransom in the free agency period the year before. Behind him was former first-round pick David Njoku who Browns fans saw glimpses of a brilliant plan.
Stephen Carlson was the steady blocking tight end. Harrison Bryant was the John Mackey Award winner for the best tight end in college football, and suddenly was here in Cleveland fighting for targets.
And the world was a beautiful place.
What transpired in 2021? And is the tight end room still the best position group?
Here We Go Brownies! Podcast
The tight ends.. what an interesting dilemma the Browns find themselves in. Considered to be one of the most important positions to head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense has serious questions that need to be addressed this off-season. Stefanski from Day 1 has stated his offense requires multiple tight end formations.
Do you keep Austin Hooper? Is David Njoku now worth the payday after receiving the team’s franchise tag? Will Harrison Bryant blossom into the player the Browns drafted him to be as the John Mackey Award winner?
What about Stephen Carlson or Miller Forristall before each were added to IR last year? Or perhaps practice squad member Nick Guggemos?
All great questions that will be addressed.
From the outside looking in I believe Njoku has earned a paycheck and shown he wants to be in Cleveland. Hooper will be a bigger challenge and the amount of money he is owed on his contract.
Hooper’s cap hit in 2022 is $13.25 million and has three years remaining. That is a ton of money to pay a position that had minimal stats last season.
At season’s end, Njoku was an unrestricted free agent (UFA) who saw the franchise tag slapped on him March 7 right before the deadline for utilizing the franchise tag had ended. If that stands pat, Njoku will make $10.834 million in 2022. There had been a few reports out of Berea that the front office had offered him a long-term extension that would have paid him $10 million per year rather than risking him hitting the free agent market.
The tag now allows Cleveland the ability to keep him under wraps for one more year while negotiating a long-term deal to keep him in-house for several more seasons. Which is in his best interests in the event he becomes injured once again.
Carlson is an UFA as well who was paid just $850,000 last year which is very doable for an experienced player who is a great blocker.
Forristall is just 24 years old and was an excellent college player while at Alabama. He is currently an exclusive rights free agent scheduled to make $825,000 in 2022. Guggemos is tied for the lowest paid player on the Browns roster at $705,000 and has been timed at 4.49 in the 40. Both players signed reserve/futures contracts on January 10 which protects them.
Bryant of course is on a rookie-friendly deal with a cap hit of $1.087 million and should be kept to grow and get better at the position. He has two years remaining on his rookie contract.
While it is unlikely Cleveland will bring in a tight end in free agency, will they entertain the idea of drafting another young buck for the tight end room? With Pick #115 in the fourth-round, TE Cade Otton of Washington or Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson would certainly appear tempting.
The 6’-5”, 250 pound junior Otton is an exceptional blocker and could become a key Red Zone target with his sure hands. He was First Team All-Pac 12 in 2020. Ferguson (6;-5”, 244 pounds) would be a dream pick in that he blocks like a madman and is an above average pass receiver who will fight for contested balls while a four-year starter. He was First Team All-Big 10 in 2021.
Which makes you wonder: is Hooper the odd man out with the money the Browns have now committed to Njoku? We will see as GM Andrew Berry resets the roster in the next few weeks.