Cleveland Browns: Could Ricky Seals-Jones make David Njoku expendable?

CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 13: Ricky Seals-Jones #83 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates his second quarter touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 13: Ricky Seals-Jones #83 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates his second quarter touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns were dealt a blow when David Njoku was injured Week 2, but Ricky Seals-Jones has stepped up and filled Njoku’s role.

For Cleveland Browns third-year tight end David Njoku, the 2019 season was supposed to be a breakout season. The athletic tight end seemed to be more comfortable as a receiving tight end during his second season and was expected to build on that in 2019.

However, Njoku’s season was derailed after suffering a concussion and broken wrist early in Cleveland’s Week 2 game against the New York Jets. After leaping for a catch, Njoku was upended and landed upside-down, while also landing awkwardly on his wrist.

In Njoku’s absence, the Browns have needed their tight end group to step up and fill Njoku’s role. The one tight end who has taken the opportunity in stride is the tight end who has been on the Browns roster for the shortest time: Ricky Seals-Jones.

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The Browns claimed Seals-Jones off waivers during final cut downs after playing two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. The wide receiver turned tight end made some plays in Arizona, but never took off as a playmaker. In 25 games with the Cardinals, Seals-Jones caught 46 receptions for 544 yards and four touchdowns.

Now in Cleveland, Seals-Jones has seamlessly filled into Njoku’s role as a receiving tight end. Seals-Jones has used his experience as a wide receiver to find soft spots in coverage and has shown reliability with his hands. He also seems to be developing a solid chemistry with Baker Mayfield.

Seals-Jones did not play prior to Njoku’s injury. But in the time since Njoku was forced to leave the field, Seals-Jones has caught seven of his 12 targets for 143 yards and two touchdowns. He has also been responsible for five first-downs. Although it is a small sample size, Seals-Jones is showing the potential of being a good pass catcher in Cleveland’s offense.

That leads to the question of if Seals-Jones has a future with the Browns and what that would mean for Njoku? They both play a similar role as pass catching tight ends due to both struggling to develop as blockers. That has been the most frustrating aspect of Njoku’s game because he has the size to be a solid blocking tight end, but has been unable to develop that part of his game.

But with both having the skill-set for a similar role, Seals-Jones provides the Browns with a cheaper option. As a first-round pick, Njoku has a 2019 cap hit of $2.59 million compared to Seals-Jones’ $645K cap hit. Seals-Jones will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season while Njoku has one more year on his deal, and potentially one more if Cleveland picks up his fifth-year option.

If the Browns view Seals-Jones as a solid pass catching tight end and he continues to grow into the role as the season continues, it would not be surprising if Cleveland decides to bring him back in 2020. That would provide Cleveland a solid 1-2 tight end combo with Njoku. However, the Browns could decide with Seals-Jones in the fold, they could use Njoku to improve other areas of the roster.

Njoku will be due for a new contract at the same time as Myles Garrett and a year before Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb. Instead of giving Njoku a contract after his rookie deal and tightening up their cap space even more, Cleveland could decide to continue with Seals-Jones as their pass catching tight end and move Njoku in a potential trade.

Njoku should have value in the trade market as a young athletic tight end with potential. Until he develops his blocking, it will be hard to view Njoku as anything more than a pass catching tight end. In that case, it would make sense for the Browns to go with Seals-Jones as a cheaper pass catching option instead of being locked into a larger, multi-year contract for Njoku with the hope he develops his blocking to become an all-around tight end.

If the Browns want to save cap space in the future to protect themselves with the expensive extensions of Garrett and Mayfield on the horizon, replacing Njoku with Seals-Jones would make sense. But this is only a viable option if Seals-Jones continues to grow in Cleveland’s offense. If not, then the team should just bet on the future of Njoku.

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The Browns will have options at the tight end position and their decisions could play a big role in the team’s future cap space. But if Seals-Jones can turn his small sample size into a continued trend, he could ultimately make Njoku expendable in the future.