David Njoku is not being misguided by Drew Rosenhaus after being misused by the Cleveland Browns.
If David Njoku‘s Cleveland Browns career is being brought to a premature close, the reason likely has more to do with former head coach Freddie Kitchens instead of his new agent new Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus is simply representing the financial interests of his client and has no power to force a deal, although logically if a deal can be reached that benefits both parties, it will happen. The same situation happened last year with Duke Johnson, and the Browns were able to work out a fair deal with the Houston Texans.
Fans typically do not like sports agents because they are afraid they might spirit away their favorite players. However, Rosenhaus forever earned this reporter’s respect in 2016 when he wanted Johnny Manziel to enter a treatment facility in order to continue his football career. When that did not happen, Rosenhaus fired him. That was the best thing he could have done for the troubled kid, to try to get him to seek help. Everyone else just used him for their own personal gain.
Rosenhaus at best can facilitate a deal by making a few back-channel phone calls to find out who might be interested. He cannot order the Browns to make a move. But the Browns can sit on Njoku all year long if they want to, which is pretty much what they did last year with Johnson. In Johnson, they had a player who had 630 yards the previous season. Njoku had 41.
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Under Freddie Kitchens, as ridiculous as it sounds, Njoku was the fifth string tight end. There may not have been another fifth string tight end in the entire NFL because most teams carry only three tight ends, and only a few carry as many as four. Almost no team ever carries five tight ends.
Former general manager John Dorsey exercised a new rule to bring Njoku off injured reserve, but Njoku ranked behind Stephen Carlson, Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones and Pharaoh Brown, although Njoku managed to get into 20 offensive plays in Week 14 and four more in Week 17, when Brown was injured. All told, he had five receptions for 41 yards, compared to 56 grabs for 639 yards in 2018 as one of Baker Mayfield’s favorite targets. That is a lot of real estate for a tight end.
How does a player go from 639 yards to 41 in one year?
What Njoku does not do well is block, and management was openly critical about that. The Dawg Pound is a place where toughness is prized. You are supposed to bring your hard hat and lunch pail, take your hits and go to work. Cleveland fans would rather have a tough guy who can block rather than an athletic guy with a large catch radius, but below average blocking skills. But that doesn’t mean the receiving tight ends are of no value.
Put it this way, if Njoku could block as well as he catches, he would make the Pro Bowl. If he can’t, he is still a situational player, especially for passing downs. There is no reason why he cannot make a living catching footballs in the NFL. Gregg Williams used him in the slot at times in 2018. Indeed, before Wes Welker, most of the slot receivers were big, physical receivers rather than the fast moving guys you see today. Perhaps Njoku could evolve into one of those hybrid tight end wide receivers.
What about today’s situation? Kitchens is gone. Seals-Jones left the team as a free agent, and Harris was released. Andrew Berry did draft another tight end in Harrison Bryant, while also signing Austin Hooper as a free agent.
The depth chart will probably hold four tight ends and a fullback this year. 12 personnel is probably the preferred package with Austin Hooper and Stephen Carlson as the frontrunners for starting positions. The question that should be posed to Njoku and Rosenhaus is, “How intimidated are you by Stephen Carlson?” Carlson is a good player, but a first round talent should be able to take his job away, or at least some of the snaps.
Probably drafting Bryant was not done out of positional need but rather based on the belief that he was the best player available. The front office probably did not want to draft a tight end like Bryant or a pure center like Nick Harris. Njoku was probably within shooting distance of regaining a starting job in place of Carlson, though with a shortened preseason, it might be more difficult.
So it may have been a mistake on the part of Njoku, who was probably going to get a real chance for redemption with a new coach. But we ought not blame him a bit, based on the raw deal he got from Freddie Kitchens.
Talent has a way of finding its way to the playing field in the NFL. In a way, it would be a positive if they really could not find playing time for a first round talent, though that is probably not really true. It would be a coup if the front office can convince Njoku to stay in Cleveland, but if not hopefully an equitable deal can be reached.
For a tight end with a 51 yard season under his belt, it might be a bit less than the Carson Wentz deal. A day three draft pick next year would probably be fair. Alternatively, if the Browns have an interest in a (slightly) pricey player from a team with a salary cap problem, a swap could work out in both teams’ favor. Yo, who has a linebacker they are having trouble justifying on the roster?