David Njoku: Browns, agent remain in contract talks: 'I honestly want to be here for the rest of my career'
The disappointment of the 2021 season has not changed tight end David Njoku's mind about wanting to sign a contract extension with the Browns.
"I love it here. I love it here to the core," Njoku said Monday on Zoom. "I honestly want to be here for the rest of my career, so my agent and the Browns are still in talks, we're still negotiating, figuring out what we can do, and we'll go from there."
Njoku publicly expressed a desire this past summer to stay with the Browns, who finished their season Sunday with a record of 8-9. At the time, Njoku said he would instruct agent Malki Kawa to work toward an extension with the organization.
Njoku, 25, said his feelings were "the same" a day after the Browns earned a 21-16 win over the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale.
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Browns coaches want Njoku back, and he senses a similar sentiment from his teammates.
"They obviously hear about it, they’re excited and hopeful that we do come to an agreement and I end up staying here," Njoku said. "We’re all excited. These are exciting times.
"It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that was put into these last few years, and I owe it all to God and just got to keep working. I’m just going to go back to the drawing board, figure out what I have to perfect, what I didn’t do right or what I can do better and get back to work."
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A first-round draft pick (No. 29 overall) in 2017 from the University of Miami, Njoku is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. March 16.
Njoku caught 36 passes on 53 targets for 475 yards and a team-high four touchdowns in the 2021 season. ProFootballFocus.com ranked him 15th among 75 qualifying tight ends. He played 16 games, missing one with COVID-19.
“Looking back and reflecting, obviously, we left a lot on the field, and I want to take personal blame for some of that," Njoku said. "I feel like I could have done more. We all feel like we could have done more. We have to just turn to the next chapter and get back to work. Obviously, take a little vacation, take time off to reflect, relax and refocus, and in a couple of weeks, we have to hunker down and start from phase one again.”
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Njoku played the 2021 season on his $6.013 million fifth-year option.
General Manager Andrew Berry had a huge role in drafting Njoku in 2017, when Berry served as the Browns' chief talent evaluator and held the title of vice president of player personnel. Berry exercised the fifth-year option on Njoku's rookie deal in April 2020 and allowed to become guaranteed in March 2021.
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The show of faith gave Njoku a morale boost and affected his thinking about his future with the Browns, he said in August.
Njoku had previously requested a trade from Cleveland, a wish his former agent, Drew Rosenhaus, publicized in July 2020.
Yet Njoku rescinded the request. Eventually, his attitude toward the Browns changed.
Now he sees unfinished business for him in Cleveland.
"What our goals are as a team and individually we haven't done yet," Njoku said. "More so team-wise, it's our dream to bring a championship here [to] Cleveland. There's no question that we have unfinished business.
"It's a tough pill to swallow right now because we know how good we were on the roster, and we knew the talent that we had, but we just couldn't put it all together for whatever reason.”
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Njoku said he didn't want to assign blame to anyone but himself for the Browns falling short of qualifying for the playoffs a year after they went 12-6, including 1-1 in the postseason.
“I work so hard. My teammates work so hard," he said. "And when you fall short, it hurts.
"We've got to pick up the pieces. We've got to handle our business. And when the time is right, we're going back to work, and we're hitting it full throttle.”
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.