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The Cleveland Browns just made mediocre tight end David Njoku one of the highest-paid players at his position in the league. On its own, it isn’t the worst decision in the world. However, combined with all the other choices the organization has made lately, it makes you wonder what exactly the Browns front office is thinking.

The Cleveland Browns have made some head-scratching decisions lately

At the end of the 2020 season, the Cleveland Browns’ future seemed so bright.

The team finished 11-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Browns then won a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and gave the Kansas City Chiefs all they could handle in the Divisional Round.

Baker Mayfield, who looked like a future franchise QB, led the team back to the playoffs, and he did it on his rookie contract. Plus, there were young players on reasonable deals up and down the roster, giving the team the flexibility to build a powerhouse in the future.

Just a year later, after an admittedly poor season by an injured Mayfield and a disappointing 8-9 record, the team’s future is much more uncertain.  

It’s also much more expensive.

The team’s first big move of the offseason was to trade for Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper. They only gave up a fifth-round pick and a sixth-round swap to get him. But, even though he has just a $4.8 million cap hit this season, that goes up to $23.7 million if they want to keep him in 2023 and 2024.

Next, they gave up three first-round picks plus to get Deshaun Watson and then give him the biggest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history at $230 million. They also manipulated the deal so that a lengthy 2022 suspension for the 22 sexual misconduct lawsuits he’s facing won’t cost him much, but that’s another story.

The irony of the Watson deal is that he won’t even be the highest-paid QB on the roster next season. That honor goes to Mayfield, who’s making $18.8 million next season but apparently doesn’t have a role on the team.

Now, they just made David Njoku the fourth-highest paid tight end in the NFL.

The Browns massively overpaid TE David Njoku

The latest questionable decision from the Cleveland Browns is giving tight end David Njoku a massive contract extension.

On Friday, May 27, 2022, news broke that the Njoku signed a four-year, $56.75 million deal with $28 million guaranteed. That works out to $14.1 million per year.

The problem with this is twofold.

First, while the Browns aren’t in salary cap trouble this season, contracts like this are what puts a franchise into salary cap hell down the line. Cleveland has given out $115 million more in guaranteed contracts this offseason than any other team. The Jacksonville Jaguars have guaranteed $248 million in contracts moving forward. The Browns have $363 in future commitments.

Second, this contract is completely based on potential without any production component. It’s one thing for the Browns to give big, guaranteed deals to players like Denzel Ward or Nick Chubb (which they have in the last year). Ward is a two-time Pro Bowler, and Chubb has made the NFL’s All-Star game three times.

Njoku is a 6-foot-4, 246-pound elite athlete. He came from an iconic tight end school in Miami and ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the combine in 2017. The TE is relatively young, too. He’s been in the league five years already, but he’ll only be 26 in July.

There’s only one problem. Njoku is now the fourth-highest-paid tight end in the league, and he hasn’t produced anything close to numbers that justify that.

Where Njoku ranks among NFL tight ends

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku interacts with fans.
David Njoku | Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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For five seasons, David Njoku has been the NFL tight end poised for a breakout season. The player has it all. He’s big, speedy, athletic, and has soft hands. It’s only a matter of time before he finds the right quarterback, the right coaches, puts it all together, and becomes one of the best TEs in the league… right?

Anyone who’s drafted Njoku in a fantasy league in the last half-decade knows this argument well. They also know that, for whatever reason, it hasn’t clicked yet.

The former Miami Hurricane had a nice rookie season with 32 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns. In season two, he made a leap, catching 56 balls for 639 yards and four TDs.

However, since that sophomore season, Njoku’s been a disappointment. He missed the majority of 2019 with an injury, but in the three years after his second season combined, Njoku has 60 catches for 709 yards and seven TDs.

Among tight ends, he’s not even in the top 20, let alone top five, like his contract suggests. In his career (taking out his four-catch, 41-yard 2019), the Browns TE has finished 24th, 8th, 46th, and 22nd in yards and 30th, 8th, 49th, and 24th in catches in his position group.

And while fantasy football certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all, it can give you an idea about what the numbers people think of a player.

So, what do the fantasy football gurus think of Njoku? ESPN’s fantasy experts rank him between the 18th and 23rd best TE for 2022 (in PPR) for an average ranking of 20.3.

The 20th-best tight end in the NFL seems a lot closer to Njoku’s reality in 2022 than the fourth-best player at the position, as his contract indicates.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference