A new important data point entered an already well-defined tight end market several days ago. The Browns signed David Njoku, who was given a $10.931 million franchise tag in March, to a four-year, $54.75 million contract. The maximum value of the deal is $56.75 million thanks to $500,000 of annual incentives in which Njoku makes $250,000 each year he is selected first or second team All-Pro. The amount earned doubles to $500,000 if the Browns also make the playoffs. The deal contains $28 million of guarantees, of which $17 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
Njoku is now the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid tight end by average yearly salary at $13,687,500 per year although he caught just 36 passes for 475 yards and scored four touchdowns in 2021. The Browns didn’t give Njoku the contract because of his past performance. His best season was in 2018 when he had 56 receptions, 639 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Njoku got the deal because the Browns are expecting his production to substantially increase in a passing game no longer including wide Jarvis Landry and tight end Austin Hooper, who were released in March. Deshaun Watson, who led the NFL in passing yards in 2020, is a major upgrade over Baker Mayfield at quarterback.
Njoku is the clear cut top tight end with Hooper out the picture. Cleveland would be getting its money’s worth from the contract if he can start coming close to replicating or exceeding what the two of them did last season from a receiving standpoint. Hooper and Njoku combined for 74 receptions, 820 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2021.
Cleveland can get out of the contract after two years with Njoku making $25 million if he doesn’t take a big step forward statistically. There’s an offset with the $3 million of his 2024 base salary, which becomes fully guaranteed next March on the third day of the 2023 league year. Presumably, Njoku would be able to sign with another team for at least $3 million if released in 2024 so the Browns would be able to recoup the 2024 guarantee from this contract.
Dalton Schultz – TE – Dallas
The Cowboys and Dolphins can’t be thrilled about Njoku’s contract because of the impact the deal should have on any respective negotiations with tight ends Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki, who were also given a $10.931 million franchise tag. The deadline for franchise players to sign long term is July 15 at 4 p.m. ET.
Njoku’s $13,687,500 average per year should become the salary floor on a long-term deal for Gesicki and Schultz. Njoku doesn’t measure up statistically to either player.
Schultz had a career year in 2021 with 78 catches, 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He was more productive last season in 17 games than Njoku was over the last two seasons combined in the 29 games he played. Njoku caught 55 passes for 688 yards with six touchdowns. Schultz has 23 more receptions, 120 more receiving yards and two more touchdown catches than Njoku.
Additionally, Schultz is one of four players to rank in the top 10 in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches among tight ends since the start of the 2020 regular season. He is fourth, seventh and tied for sixth in these respective categories. The other three tight ends are Mark Andrews (Ravens), Travis Kelce (Chiefs) and Darren Waller (Raiders).
Gesicki’s 2021 production was also better than Njoku’s over the last two seasons. His 73 catches and 780 receiving yards, both career highs, were 18 more and 92 more, respectively, than Njoku.