The Browns are exercising their fifth-year option on Njoku, who was a first-round pick in 2017, Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. GM Andrew Berry suggested in February that this would likely be the decision, but it no longer seemed like a sure thing after the Browns signed Austin Hooper and drafted Harrison Bryant in the fourth round. A fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only, so this doesn't actually ensure Njoku will be under contract beyond 2020. While trade rumors figure to persist, Scott Petrak of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram relays that Berry has been adamant about Njoku being part of the big-picture plan in Cleveland. New head coach Kevin Stefanski is coming over from Minnesota, where his 2019 Vikings offense used 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs) at the second-highest rate in the league, per NFL.com's Michael Fabiano. Given their deep group of tight ends as well as the shaky depth behind Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver, the 2020 Browns likely will rely on multi-TE formations on early downs.
Njoku is still viewed as part of the Browns' plans following the NFL Draft, Marla Ridnour of the Akron Beacon Journal reports. The Browns are expected to involve their tight ends more this season under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, which suggests Njoku should be safe. However, they added Austin Hooper in free agency and then drafted Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant in the fourth round (115th overall) in the draft. That creates a whiff of uncertainty regarding Njoku's role in 2020 and long-term standing with the organization. "David has always been and continues to be in our plans," said general manager Andrew Berry, who did not directly address picking up Njoku's fifth-year option but added he's "part of our long-term plans." The tight end enters his fourth season, and the Browns must decide on the option prior to May 3. Njoku was limited to four games in 2019 due to a broken wrist.
Despite signing Austin Hooper, the Browns aren't expected to trade Njoku this offseason, ESPN.com's Jake Trotter reports. Hooper's presence will make it harder for Njoku to draw targets and establish fantasy value, but the young tight end should nonetheless have an important role under new coach Kevin Stefanski, who frequently utilized multi-TE formations while serving as offensive coordinator in Minnesota last year. It's also worth noting that the Browns don't have an established No. 3 wide receiver, though they did trade for fullback Andy Janovich (elbow) a couple weeks ago. The team has until early May to make a decision on Njoku's fifth-year contract option for 2020, with a report from February suggesting it likely would be picked up. The Hooper signing might change things, and it might also make the Browns more receptive if another team comes calling with a generous trade offer for Njoku.
General manager Andrew Berry suggested Tuesday that the Browns are likely to pick up Njoku's fifth-year contract option for 2021 this spring, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal reports. It wouldn't actually be much of a commitment, as Njoku's draft position (29th overall) and football position (tight end) both serve to limit the cost of the fifth-year option, which is guaranteed for injury only. Berry said he envisions Njoku as part of the Browns' future, a sentiment echoed by new head coach Kevin Stefanski. It's no secret Njoku clashed with former coach Freddie Kitchens, failing to regain a significant role after he was out for two months with a broken wrist in 2019. The young tight end was promising but inconsistent in 2017 and 2018, often alternating ugly drops and big plays. With Njoku set to turn 24 this summer, the Browns believe he still has time to harness the immense physical gifts he demonstrated at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine -- a 4.64 40-yard-dash time, a 37.5-inch vertical jump and a 133-inch broad jump, all strong numbers for a player measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds.
Njoku's chances of remaining with the Browns in 2020 improved after the organization parted ways with head coach Freddie Kitchens following the Week 17 loss to the Bengals, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal reports. The tight end admitted he had "a couple differences" with Kitchens, who made Njoku a healthy inactive for Weeks 15 and 16 before the 23-year-old played just four of the Browns' 54 offensive snaps in the season finale. Njoku also missed 10 games with a wrist issue earlier in the season before being designated to return from injured reserve. When Njoku eventually returned to action Week 14 against the Bengals, he had a ball taken away from him on a play that was ruled as an interception. That displeased Kitchens, who eventually phased out the tight end. With Kitchens now out of the picture, the Browns are expected to give the 2017 first-round draft pick a fresh look under a new regime.
|* indicates player did not play that week|
|WK||DATE||OPP||OPP RANK||OPP FPTS|
|8||11/01||Las Vegas Raiders||0.00|
|15||12/20||@New York Giants||25||8.00|
|16||12/27||@New York Jets||4||5.13|
|3 Year Avg||53||31||355||3||16||11.45||53|