David Njoku and the mistake of paying Austin Hooper
The Cleveland Browns already had their TE1 in David Njoku, and shouldn’t have paid for Austin Hooper
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku requested a trade last season after the team signed free-agent tight end Austin Hooper to a massive deal.
The trade request was not fulfilled and Njoku remains with the Browns.
Njoku told the BrownsWave Podcast that at the time of the signing, he felt disrespected.
"“Obviously, when you pay a different person that plays your same position, ya know, that much money, I did feel disrespected in a way,” Njoku said."
Hooper signed a four-year, $42 million deal with $18.5 fully guaranteed, which at the time was the largest contract ever given to a tight end. Later in the week, both George Kittle and Travis Kelce signed even bigger deals.
For Njoku, he said he had that he had two options; cry about it or put his head down and work.
"“At one point I was just like ‘you know what? I could do two things. I could cry about it or I could just say f*** it and keep working.’”"
Cleveland was hoping that Hooper would be a similar player to Kittle and Kelce, after a 2019 season in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns with the Falcons. He even missed three games that season. Along with his pass-catching abilities, Hooper was signed to help bolster the offensive line and keep quarterback Baker Mayfield upright due to his pass blocking.
Now, on paper, it would appear that Hooper had a better 2020 season than Njoku just based on popular statistics such as receptions, yards, and touchdowns. However, there is more than meets the eye when it comes down to who truly had a better season.
Looking strictly at receptions, yards and, touchdowns, Hooper had the better season. He hauled in 55 passes on 79 targets for 497 yards, and five touchdowns. Njoku finished with 24 receptions on 35 targets for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
When you pay a player the kind of money Cleveland paid Hooper, you’re going to have him on the field more than any other player at his position. That was certainly the case with Hooper, who including the playoffs, was on the field for 784 snaps. He had 415 blocks and a block percentage of 52.9.
Njoku was on the field over 300 snaps less than Hooper, yet produced better in the blocking game. He had 250 blocks on 461 snaps (52.4 percent). He allowed just one hurry while Hooper allowed a sack, hit, and two hurries.
It’s ironic because Njoku used to get criticized for his blocking where Hooper was always lauded for his role in blocking along with his receiving abilities in Atlanta. They say numbers don’t lie and these numbers certainly tell quite the story.
Njoku played a huge role in this explosive offense and quite frankly outplayed Hooper overall.
The salary cap situation isn’t bad in 2021 in terms of what Hooper’s hit will be. He will be owed $8,250,000 which is 3.9 percent of the Browns cap. Where it could be a mistake for the Browns is over the next two seasons after 2021. For 2022 and 2023 he jumps up to a little more than $13 million, making 6.5 and 5.9 percent of the Browns spending.
Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry has a lot of decisions to make over the next year in terms of what kind of money the Browns can give certain players to remain with the team. Is it worth it to give a tight end all that money over the next two seasons?
So was it really smart for the Browns to give Hooper all that money? As of now, you can justify it as he had a solid season after an offseason in which it was mostly virtual. On the flip side of that, the Browns could have saved some money had they chose to just re-sign Njoku, especially after drafting another tight end, Harrison Bryant, in the fourth round of last year’s draft.
Back to Njoku, who became a fan-favorite in The Land after being drafted 29th overall in the 2017 draft. He easily could’ve either held out or constantly complained about his situation. However, he chose to just put his head down and work, as he understands that the National Football League is a business, but also for the fans who are chomping at the bit to once again fill up FirstEnergy Stadium and cheer on a potential Super Bowl contender.
If 2020 was any indication, Cleveland should use Njoku more in 2021 after proving that he can be an asset in either the passing game as a blocker or receiver and in the run game. Both he and Hooper should see similar snap counts as both can help Mayfield and the offense continue to thrive.