In a conference call Tuesday that David Njoku knew was coming for a month, it still seemed to catch him by surprise that the local media had multiple questions about his trade request from July.
“Like I said, I am not going into that at this moment. I am a Cleveland Brown for the time being. For now, I am a Cleveland Brown for the time being, and I am just going to leave it like that. Thank you.”
This was a pretty typical answer from Njoku addressing his status with the Cleveland Browns. From the first question, it took a uncomfortable turn and Njoku was largely fighting his way through the questions over the next several minutes. He became curt at points. His frustration with the topics made him seem unhappy with his situation, despite saying he’s comfortable here.
As Njoku relaxed with a few more questions, Tony Grossi of ESPN 850 circled back to address the number of times Njoku said “for the time being”, asking if he wants to be here for the long term. To that, Njoku gave a more convincing answer.
“Oh, no. I was just speaking on today and on now. I am not saying this is my last year here. I am just talking because all we have is the present.”
“Yes, I want to be here long term.”
The business side of the NFL has been a struggle for Njoku. Even as he had his fifth year option secured, which should be a positive for him, Njoku was looking at the fact the option was based on production. The reason behind the trade request in addition to believing he’s worth more money despite the lack of proving it to this point, he wanted to be in a situation where he can get the numbers to maximize that option year.
It’s short sighted on a few levels. First, the Browns really like Njoku. They believe in what he can be. The 24-year old tight end could potentially be past the incubation period tight ends have coming into the NFL and be ready to hit his prime years. The team can easily keep both Austin Hooper and Njoku on long term deals so long as Njoku plays up to that level.
Speaking of short sighted, after the Browns refused to trade Njoku when he asked for a trade, there are fans trying to trade Njoku now. If the Browns didn’t want to trade Njoku before, why would they suddenly want to trade him now?
The Browns want to be able to run two tight end sets with multiple inline threats as well as being able to move them into the slot. Hooper and Njoku are the only two tight ends on this roster that are legitimate inline blockers, who can also function as pass catchers.
Based on practices, the team is excited about Harrison Bryant. He’s a nice pass catcher. Bryant is also struggling as a blocker and is more suited to be a wing at this point than play inline. This was a huge reason the Browns had no interest in trading Njoku. Bryant isn’t ready for that role and the Browns knew it when they drafted him. It took Njoku a few years to get there. If Bryant can get to that point at all, it will take him a few years. Stephen Carlson isn’t really built for that either, more suited to play in space.
The next inline tight end for the Browns is likely Chris Hubbard. He’s built for it and has operated as a jumbo tight end in the past. Maybe he can catch a dump off pass, but that’s why the Browns really want Njoku and they want him to succeed.
Yes, he has to catch the ball. Fans are certainly allowed to be frustrated when he doesn’t. That frustration does not warrant trading him and the idea that they should isn’t operating in reality.
Njoku still has some growing up to do. With a mature, better equipped coaching staff, they can hopefully help him understand what it will take to be a successful player on the field as well as off of it. The Browns have made the decision they are comfortable with Njoku for at least the next two seasons and are certainly hopeful it can be more than that. The fans hoping to trade him, bench him or anything else are going to have to come to grips with the fact he’s the second tight end on this team.
No one is going to care about this trade request or any awkward interviews if Njoku goes out and produces. That’s all he should be his sole focus at this point.