The Cleveland Browns committed to tight end David Njoku last May by signing him to a four-contract extension.
Njoku rewarded the team by posting a career-high with 58 receptions, had the second 600-yard receiving year of his career, and a career-best four touchdown receptions for the fourth time in his six years in the league.
While perhaps not on the same level as the league’s best tight ends - the Week 16 game against the New Orleans Saints kind of highlighted that - the combination of his contract and production firmly establish Njoku as Cleveland’s No. 1 tight end.
After that? Well, the picture is not as clear.
Harrison Bryant certainly tries his best, but he has not shown to be the type of player who instills fear in the opposing defense in his first three years. Pharaoh Brown joined the club in October as the third tight end and played in 13 games, mostly as a blocking tight end.
Brown is a free agent, as is fellow tight end Jesse James (bonus points if you remember James playing in two games last season), so this offseason could be an opportunity to improve the position behind Njoku.
With that in mind, here are three players that might catch the eye of general manager Andrew Berry.
Dalton Schultz – Dallas Cowboys
6’-5”, 244 pounds
NFL Draft: 2018 Round 4, pick No. 137 (Cowboys)
Career Pro Bowls: none
40 time: 4.75
2022 season: 15 starts, 57 receptions, 89 targets, 577 yards, 5 touchdowns, 27 first-down catches, 10.1 yards per reception
Thomas Moore: If the Browns are truly planning to add to the tight end room, then Dalton Schultz could be a name to keep an eye on.
His numbers were down in 2022, but that can be attributed to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott missing the first five games of the season. Even so, Schultz has 17 career touchdown receptions, averages 10.1 yards per catch and has a catch rate of 70.1 percent. Those numbers stack up nicely against Cleveland’s incumbent tight ends as David Njoku only has two more career touchdown receptions and Harrison Bryant has struggled to be a consistent player in his first three seasons.
While Schultz would not be a threat to Njoku as the No. 1 tight end, he would represent an upgrade over Bryant as he surpassed Bryant in PFF’s grades last season overall (67.8 vs. 59.3), in run blocking (65.9 vs. 62.1) and in receiving (64.7 vs. 58.1). Schultz is a reliable pass catcher who is also solid enough in the run game to be an asset as a team’s second tight end.
The biggest hurdle would be the contract as PFF projects Schultz to bring home a deal that averages $14.5 million a year, while Bryant is scheduled to be paid $2.743 million in the final year of his rookie contract. That difference for a team that is working on the salary cap and has other holes to fill may be too much to take on.
Contract Projection: Four years, $58 million ($14.5M per year); $36 million total guaranteed
Mike Gesicki – Miami Dolphins
6’-6”, 250 pounds
NFL draft: 2018 Round 12 pick No. 42 (Dolphins)
Career Pro Bowls: none
40 time: 4.54
2022 season: 17 starts, 32 receptions, 52 targets, 362 yards, 5 touchdowns, 19 first-down catches, 11.3 yards per reception
Barry Shuck: There is going to be a ton of interest in Gesicki as he is an excellent pass catcher. The problem in Miami is that their offense does not include the tight end as a feasible option so Gesicki’s numbers and targets are not very high. In free agency, he will look for a team that will throw passes his way more.
He is a weapon and Cleveland needs more offensive athletes who can make plays. Gesicki has good speed and is a shifty route runner. He is also a great blocker which is what the Dolphins needed him to do most. But front and center, he is like the tall receiver on the field.
In 2021, the offense looked his way more with 73 receptions, but once Tyreek Hill became a teammate along with the progression of Jaylen Waddle, Gesicki became the forgotten one.
Contract Projection: One year, $11 million; $10 million total guaranteed
Hayden Hurst – Cincinnati Bengals
6’-4”, 250 pounds
NFL draft: 2018 Round 1, pick No. 25 (Ravens)
Career Pro Bowls: none
40 time: 4.67
2022 season: 13 starts, 52 receptions, 68 targets, 414 yards, 2 touchdowns, 26 first-down catches, 8.0 yards per reception
Barry Shuck: A former college and minor league baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hurst broke South Carolina’s receiving record for a tight end in a single year.
Was a first-round pick of Baltimore who then traded him to Atlanta. He then signed with Cincinnati on a one-year deal.
Cleveland needs difference-makers on offense to complement the run game. Hurst is that complement. He has stated that he likes the Cincy area, but at the same time he is ready to be paid and hopefully get a multi-year deal at the same time. Plus, the Bengals are a very good football team he may not want to leave. Regardless, he would be a good fit for the Browns.
Contract Projection: Three years, $28.5 million ($9.5M per year); $17 million total guaranteed
Put on your GM hat. Which of these players profiled would you sign?