Cleveland Browns: Why David Njoku got paid and Austin Hooper got cut

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) celebrates Austin Hooper's touchdown against the New York Giants in the first half of a game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, December 20, 2020, in East Rutherford.Nyg Vs Cle
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) celebrates Austin Hooper's touchdown against the New York Giants in the first half of a game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, December 20, 2020, in East Rutherford.Nyg Vs Cle /
1 of 3

David Njoku was a valuable but underutilized player for the Cleveland Browns, while Austin Hooper underperformed.

Some corners of the Dawg Pound are barking at the contract received by Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku, while two-time Pro Bowl tight Austin Hooper was cut. According to Spotrac, Njoku’s new contract calls for $54.75 million total, with a 2022 cap hit of $3,328,000.

This replaces the previous arrangement, the franchise tag, which carried a cap hit of $10.931,000. Was this a prudent move by the Browns front office? Or is this another extravagance that may come back to haunt them in the future?

This is just one analyst’s opinion, but for what it’s worth, the Dawg Pound needs to start by facing the fact that the Brown’s passing offense was one of the worst in the NFL.

Many fans and members of the media correctly believe that Baker Mayfield’s diminished performance has a lot to do with his left shoulder, but perhaps one of the best summaries was given by Bucky Brooks and Mike Harmon on Fox Sports Radio: “you don’t get bonus points for playing hurt.”

If a player plays in intense pain, as Mayfield did, but his performance suffers and it hurts the team and costs the team victories, the NFL is still going to judge the player for what he did on the field. The perfect supporting example was Jameis Winston, who elected to play with a broken thumb in 2020, led the NFL in interceptions, and essentially no one felt that he was entitled to use that as an excuse.

Comparing David Njoku and Austin Hooper

Cleveland Browns
Nov 14, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper (81) catches a pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) for a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

In any case, with an ineffective quarterback, Njoku clearly outperformed Hooper in every meaningful statistical category, but Hooper remained the go-to tight end last season. That had to be fixed for 2022.

According to Pro Football Reference, Njoku had 13.2 yards per reception, 9.0 yards per target, and a catch percentage of 67.9%. Hooper had 9.1 yards per reception, 5.7 yards per target and a catch percentage of 62.3%. Hooper also led the team with six drops; no other Brown had more than three. Yet Mayfield targeted Hooper 61 times versus only 53 for Njoku.

The stat that stands out the most is Njoku’s yards per target, which places him fifth among NFL tight ends, behind Dallas Goedert (PHI,10.9), George Kittle (SF, 12.8), Kyle Pitts (ATL, 9.3), and Rob Gronkowski (TB, 9.01 to Njoku’s 8.96).

Using the eyeball test, feel free to disagree, but Hooper doesn’t have a special knack for getting open and does not have a flair for making difficult catches. It’s more like the linebackers were willing to let him make a five-yard catch on third-and-seven, and Mayfield took the bait way too often.

Now let’s address the issue of who was overpaid in 2021. For those who are interested in Austin Hooper’s horrifying contract, we go into detail on the last page. But what did the Browns get for their money?

Below, the main damage stats are listed: targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns, along with both players’ salaries to allow a comparison of how much the Browns paid for their accomplishments.

Offensive snaps are listed, just as a reminder that Hooper was on the field for 47 more plays than Njoku, or just 7% more. This information allows a calculation of how much the Browns paid for each target, each reception, and each touchdown.

Austin Hooper 

  • Salary            Snaps    Tgt      $/Tgt     Rec   $/Rc           Yds      $/Yd     TD       $/TD
  • $8,250,000   717       61   $135,246  38   $217,105  345  $23,913   3  $2,750,000

David Njoku

  • Salary            Snaps    Tgt      $/Tgt     Rec   $/Rc           Yds      $/Yd     TD       $/TD
  • $6,013,000   670       53   $113,453  36   $167,028  475  $12,659  4  $1,503,250

First of all, it tells you that both players got paid over $100,000 dollars every time they tried to catch a pass, which is probably more than your kid’s teacher got paid to teach for an entire year, or more than we paid a soldier for a year to go fight for our freedom in some faraway country. But never mind.

The really important receiving stats are yards and touchdowns, and the Browns paid Hooper almost twice as much per yard (actually 1.89 times as much) and per touchdown (1.83 times) than Njoku. If you thought Njoku’s pay was outrageous, Hooper’s pay was almost twice as outrageous.

Hooper, or rather, Mayfield’s addiction to throwing ridiculously short passes to Hooper as well as Jarvis Landry, was holding back the offense. Some of the blame goes to the offensive line for not buying Mayfield more time, and we can blame the other wide receivers for not getting more open. But this is why Hooper was going to be better off in another team’s offense, especially when it appeared Mayfield would be kept one more year.

Earlier this offseason, Njoku had been franchise tagged for $10.9 million for the 2022 season. The Browns were absolutely not going to lose him this year. So what was the point of tearing up that deal and replacing it with a four-year deal for $54.75 million , with $28 million guaranteed?

This issue is raised on the next page, and the gory details of the Hooper deal are discussed on the third page.