CLEVELAND — With the Browns coming off their best season in more than a quarter-century, things should be nothing but sunshine and roses in Berea, right?
Well, that's not entirely the case, although the latest developments aren't all that surprising.
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In a Friday interview on CBS Sports Radio's "The Jim Rome Show," tight end Davis Njoku was asked about his future with the team. The former first-round pick appeared to make his position clear without really giving a clear answer: "No comment."
"I'm not going to answer that right now," Njoku told the host. "I'm just going to enjoy my family, my friends, my loved ones."
Although Cleveland picked up his fifth-year option for 2021 prior to last year's training camp, Njoku's situation became "interesting" when the team signed Pro Bowler Austin Hooper and drafted rookie Harrison Bryant to also play tight end. Njoku said he was initially "complicated" when he heard about head coach Kevin Stefanski's tendency to use multiple players at the position, but in the end, the 24-year-old had just 19 catches for 213 yards in his fourth NFL season.
"It put me in a predicament where I had nothing to do but just put my head down and work," he said, while adding that he admires both Hooper and Bryant and considers the former one of his "best friends" on the club. "I don't believe in just giving up or xyz, so I just focused on whatever I can control."
Njoku's frustrations reportedly did boil over last summer when he requested a trade from the organization, only to later publicly backtrack and say he was "all in." Despite the decrease in production, the University of Miami product still played a roll in the Browns' 11-5 campaign, snagging crucial touchdown catches in wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars and helping the team reach the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
Following a wild card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Njoku had four catches for 59 yards in the divisional round against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game Cleveland lost 22-17 in heartbreaking fashion. It still was a tremendous step for a franchise that has mostly known pain for more than two decades, but the end result left Njoku and his teammates wanting more.
"I can't even explain it," he said about finally participating in a playoff game, describing it as a "kill or be killed" atmosphere. "I'm itching to get back to that position."
Njoku admitted his spirits were a bit dampened by him and the Browns never being "on the same page," but took pride in helping bring joy to a long-suffering fan base. He also took inspiration from former teammate Joe Thomas, who experience just one winning season and zero playoff games despite an 11-year career that is sure to land him in the Hall of Fame.
"That really touched my heart," he said. "Just seeing his work ethic and him not being able to exceed and go to the playoffs, it really did something for me. I was like, 'You know what, I'm not going to ruin this for [anybody]. I'm just going to try to do whatever I can to help the team and go from there.'"
During his time with the Browns, Njoku has caught 112 passes for 1,279 yards and 11 touchdowns. While he has shown flashes of greatness, he has also been plagues by inconsistency, particularly when it comes to hanging onto the football.