David Njoku has requested a trade away from the Browns. A former first-round pick, Njoku clearly sees the writing on the wall in Cleveland. The team has a new coach and front office who were not there when he was drafted. The Browns just signed Austin Hooper to a significant contract, and then drafted Harrison Bryant in the fourth round.
So, even though Kevin Stefanski's offense leans more toward 12 personnel than almost any other in the league, that doesn't necessarily mean Njoku is a big part of the team's future. You don't pay one tight end and then draft another with a third-year, extension-eligible tight end sitting there if you plan to make him a priority in the future.
It's not surprising that Njoku wants out. While the Browns reportedly have no immediate plans to trade him, that doesn't mean we can't speculate about potential landing spots. We're ranking our top options based on who would be the best fit for the tight end.
Never put it past Bill O'Brien to trade some draft picks for a veteran player.
The Panthers spent much of this offseason remaking their offense. They swapped out Cam Newton for Teddy Bridgewater. They added Robby Anderson to work alongside D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. They shook up their offensive line. They also allowed Greg Olsen to leave for a new role with the Seahawks, leaving Ian Thomas as the lone option at tight end. Thomas has shown some dynamism in a limited role these past two years, but he's also averaging just nine yards per reception for his career. Njoku is more of a vertical threat, which Carolina needs to pull attention away from the underneath areas where Moore and Christian McCaffrey excel.
The Packers entered the offseason with a seemingly desperate need to upgrade Aaron Rodgers' receiving corps. They added ... Devin Funchess and a blocking tight end. That is not the type of upgrade they needed. Green Bay has been willing to pursue athletic tight ends in the recent past, agreeing to deals with players like Jared Cook and Jimmy Graham, who experienced varying degrees of success in the offense. Njoku is several years younger than either of those players were when they got to Green Bay, and should be expected to improve over the next few years, rather than decline.
We all know how much Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels like to utilize tight ends. And the more athletic the tight end, the more effective they have tended to be in this offense. Njoku is a ridiculous athlete; he ranks in the 97th percentile for athleticism among NFL tight ends. New England has also never been afraid to target players with elite pedigrees (Njoku was a first-round pick just a few years ago) who have nevertheless fallen out of favor with their current organization. And while the Patriots invested two draft picks in tight ends just a few short months ago, neither player has the upside of Njoku, who could provide their offense an element it currently lacks.
The Jags signed former Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert earlier this offseason, but there's a reason the Bengals were willing to let Eifert walk; he simply has not been able to stay healthy throughout his NFL career. Jacksonville has shown an affinity for big-bodied targets like DJ Chark (6-foot-4, 198 pounds), Chris Conley (6-3, 205), Laviska Shenault (6-1, 227), and Eifert himself (6-6, 255). At 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds, Njoku fits that mold, and he would provide the team with more upside than 2019 third-round pick Josh Oliver.
New head coach Ron Rivera heavily utilized the tight end during his days with the Carolina Panthers. New offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense, which bears a strong resemblance to that of his father Norv, also utilized the tight end in a significant role. Washington's current tight end options are Richard Rodgers and Jeremy Sprinkle, which doesn't exactly help Dwayne Haskins all that much. Adding Njoku would raise both the floor and ceiling of a pass-catching group that right now consists of Terry McLaurin, Trey Quinn, Steven Sims, and Antonio Gandy-Golden.
Cincinnati invested a lot in Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft. The Bengals upgraded his offensive line and drafted him a new wide receiver in Tee Higgins. They should get A.J. Green back, assuming he signs his franchise tag, and they still have Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Joe Mixon, and Giovani Bernard. They lack a similarly-explosive tight end, though. C.J. Uzomah has been a fine No. 2 tight end, but hasn't shown anything resembling top-tier talent. If they can get him for a low cost, Njoku would round out what is already shaping up to be a strong crew of weapons for Burrow.
This is my pick for the most intriguing fit. The Cardinals love spreading the field with as many perimeter threats as possible, opening up wider lanes to both throw and run. They had some difficulty doing that early last season but found more success later on. Adding DeAndre Hopkins should open things up even more in 2020, and adding Njoku would take that up another level. Giving Kyler Murray another explosive target would help make sure he takes the step forward that many are predicting for him this coming season.
Honorable mention: Bears, Raiders, Bucs
These teams just love acquiring more and more tight ends, so you can't count them out.