Here is the third annual installment of my Browns offseason roster deep dive. I will be going through the Browns roster and how they can best improve/fill all 53 roster spots. Every Monday and Wednesday I will be releasing a different position room.
For every position room, I will outline how the NFL structures that position on the roster. Also how the Browns might vary from the standard based on what we have seen in 2020 & 2021. The players we have in four categories: starter, rotation (play some snaps), depth (injury backup/special teams), and other (likely cut). Then I will lay out the options currently on the roster, available in FA as well as via the draft for all 53 spots.
The average NFL team has 3.4 TEs on their roster.
2020 (5) – Pharaoh Brown, Harrison Bryant, Stephen Carlson, Austin Hooper, David Njoku
2021 (3) – Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant
Every NFL team wants a tight end who can both block and receive. For his two/three TE sets, Stefanski will want two other players that can come in and fill different roles. If they carry a fourth player in the TE room they will be focused on their upside and special teams’ play but I have a feeling this role will be used for a third quarterback or somewhere else.
Starting TE: Austin Hooper vs David Njoku
Roster – The Browns have two options here and neither has truly lit it up in the league consistently. Austin Hooper is under contract for two more years but has an out in his contract this year saving the team $9.5m overall, for an explanation of how his contract works, watch this short two-minute video on my YouTube page.
Njoku has made all the right noises about wanting to come back to Cleveland but that doesn’t mean both sides will automatically agree on a deal. Last season the coaching staff gave more snaps to Hooper than Njoku, not by much but it points to them trusting Hooper the most despite Njoku’s better natural skill set. Where Njoku is a free agent I feel the best route is to use the transition tag. Over The Cap predicts this to be $9.332m, how it works is Njoku is able to test free agency and if he agrees on a deal with another team then the Browns can match it and he has to stay. If they don’t match it he leaves with no compensation. If no deal is reached then he plays on a one-year $9.332m deal. This allows the team security and Njoku the flexibility to test the market.
FA – There is a situation where the team decides neither of these players has been impressive enough over the last two years and want to find a new tight end on my market which is currently rich with options: Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz, Rob Gronkowski, David Njoku, Zach Ertz, Gerald Everett, Evan Engram, Maxx Williams, Mo Alie-Cox and O.J. Howard. If Dallas allows him to hit the market then Dalton Schultz would really interest me, he is the same age as David Njoku and has produced to a much higher level last season. Schultz also played 1050 snaps compared to Njoku’s 670.
For me this doesn’t have to mean the end of Njoku either, I would look to keep him on a transition tag and use him as a hybrid between TE2/WR2 as he can play in the slot and out wide, he played 30% of his snaps there last season. This way you can switch between 12 personnel and 11 personnel without a single substitution causing the defence additional problems. Also as we looked yesterday and have discussed on the podcasts alongside these articles, they might struggle to get the talent they want at wide receiver so Njoku offers you a solid option while rookie wide receivers develop.
Rotational TE: Harrison Bryant
Roster – Unless I get my bold Schultz move above and Njoku is the tight end two, everything is pointing to Harrison Bryant stepping up. He has shown odd flashes but just seems to be a solid and reliable option for the team. He isn’t currently on a projection to be an established tight-end one but it is a slow-developing position so you never know.
FA – If the Browns don’t trust Bryant to be the two next year with the amount of two-tight end sets they play then Maxx Williams or Mo Alie-Cox could be more established free agency names they go after.
Draft – You can’t draft a tight end and expect them to be the number two in this offense as we give far too many snaps to someone to learn on the job.
Rotational TE: Draft Pick
Roster – If the Browns don’t trust Bryant yet then there is a chance he goes into next season as the team’s tight end three which still gets playing time in Stefanski’s system. Stephen Carlson might get tendered but won’t make the roster on a restricted free agent tender of $2.433m, he could agree to a much cheaper deal and come back for a camp battle though. I expect him to be on another team or back on our practice squad.
Draft – Everything is pointing to the Browns drafting another tight end of day three of the draft and working to develop him.
Depth TE: Likely No Roster Spot
Draft – If they have three established players then a fourth tight end as a draft pick is possibly but this spot seems destined to be taken up by a third quarterback on the roster due to uncertainty at the position.
Other: Miller Forristall, Nick Guggemos
Check back Monday for the Offensive Tackle deep dive.
Any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JackDuffin. The DMs are open for any salary cap/roster construction questions you have.