The Cleveland Browns have three good options to choose from at the tight end position. Their current tight end, David Njoku, was injured in Week 2 of the 2019 season and then sat the last few games out due to a feud with former head coach Freddie Kitchens. Njoku, the 29th pick in the 2017 draft, had 56 receptions and 639 yards to go with four touchdowns in his 2018 campaign. The 2020 free agency class is rich in tight ends, with both Austin Hooper (75 receptions, 787 yards and six touchdowns) and Hunter Henry (55 receptions, 652 yards hitting free agency. The Browns could also wait for the draft and look for a tight end in the second or third day of the draft.
The Browns could choose to retain David Njoku.
Njoku had the best season of his career in 2018 and was a big reason why the Browns finished 7-8-1, their best result since 2007. Njoku will be much cheaper than either Hooper or Henry will be. He also has a strong connection with Baker Mayfield, which, as Odell Beckham Jr. found out, can be very difficult to form. Njoku injured his wrist after Jets safety Jamal Adams hit him and flipped him over. Not much is known about the reasons for the feud between Freddie Kitchens and Njoku, but it seems unlikely that this will repeat itself with new head coach Kevin Stefanski.
The Browns could make moves in free agency to attract tight ends. Austin Hooper had the best season of his career in 2019 and he will surely be an expensive addition. NFL cap analyst Joel Corry predicts that Hooper’s deal will be a four-year deal, at over 10 million a year. He also expects at least half of it to be guaranteed. The fact that Hooper’s deal will feature a fair amount of guaranteed money is important because of the fact that Hooper also had injury issues in 2019. He sprained his MCL in Week 10, which makes his numbers even more impressive, seeing as he did miss four weeks, but should provide some worry to the Browns who are currently thin at the position with Demetrius Harris and Ricky Seals-Jones serving as the backups.
The Browns could also add Hunter Henry, but he is even more of an injury risk than Hooper. Henry has never played in a full 16 games in his four seasons as a Charger. He tore his ACL, missing all of the 2018 season and suffered a tibia plateau fracture, which led to him missing four games in 2019. Henry will be cheaper than Hooper, due to these injury concerns. However, Henry may not be an option as the Chargers are expected to franchise tag him. The Falcons had talked about franchise tagging Hooper, but they have decided to allow him to hit the free agency market. Both of these players would bring better talent to the Browns, but it would take away cap space the Browns will use to fix their issues on the offensive line.
The third option for the Browns is to address the position through the draft. I would be shocked if the Browns were to draft anyone who isn’t an offensive tackle or Isaiah Simmons with their first-round pick. I’d also expect them to address the secondary before addressing the tight end position. The players who could be available in the third round are Thaddeus Moss, Colby Parkinson or Hunter Bryant. Moss will be one of the first tight ends off the board. He had over 550 yards and caught four touchdowns for the national champion LSU Tigers. He benefited from having Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, as his quarterback, but he a freak of nature and would surely be a great addition. He’s also Randy Moss’ son, do I need to say any more? Parkinson has over 1000 yards in his last two seasons at Stanford. He’s found the end zone eight times in that time frame as well. This is made even more impressive due to the fact that his quarterback K.J. Costello was injured in 2019 and missed seven games. Bryant is one of the best receiving tight ends in the draft, totaling over 850 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. However, Bryant struggles to block, so he would need to be a rotational tight end unless he improves dramatically in that department.
If the Browns were to select their next tight end in the draft, I would expect them to keep Njoku as the starter for at least a year to allow him to teach the new player.
The Browns have three good options to choose from, which is a good problem to have, but it will be a difficult and interesting choice for them to make.