General manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski have consistently expressed their desire for tight end David Njoku to be a part of the team’s future.
Njoku still wants out.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus asked the Browns on Friday to trade Njoku, a league source confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram.
“It is in David’s best interest to find a new team at this time,” Rosenhaus told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, saying they want a deal before training camp, which is scheduled to open July 28.
Rosenhaus didn’t respond to messages left by The Chronicle.
The Browns haven’t changed their plans for Njoku despite the trade request and aren’t looking to trade him, a league source said.
“I have been pretty consistent this offseason in terms of we still have a ton of belief in David,” Berry said after the draft in April. “He is very talented. Obviously he was not on the field much last year, but he is a guy with outstanding physical tools, he has proven NFL production and we still think the future is very bright with him here.
“David has always been and continues to be in our plans, and we are going to continue to add competition all across the roster.”
Njoku (6-foot-4, 246 pounds) was the No. 29 pick of the 2017 draft out of the University of Miami. He’s been unable to consistently turn his impressive athleticism into production, totaling 93 catches for 1,066 yards and nine touchdowns in 36 games, including 20 starts.
The impetus for Njoku’s trade request likely stems from the Browns’ offseason moves at his position.
Two-time Pro Bowler Austin Hooper was signed to a four-year, $42 million deal as a free agent, and Harrison Bryant was drafted in the fourth round out of Florida Atlantic University.
Even after those additions, the Browns picked up the fifth-year option in Njoku’s rookie contract for 2021, although it’s only guaranteed for injury. Njoku is scheduled to make $1.76 million in 2020 and a little more than $6 million in 2021.
Njoku had been represented by Malki Kawa but recently switched to Rosenhaus, one of the league’s top agents. Running back Duke Johnson made a similar switch to Rosenhaus last year after expressing his desire to be traded. Then-GM John Dorsey eventually shipped Johnson to the Texans for a third-round draft pick.
The Browns’ plan to keep Njoku could change with the right trade offer. But it’s uncertain what the market would be for a player who’s yet to live up to his potential or draft status. A middle-round pick or a veteran in a similar circumstance might be the best the Browns could get in return.
Berry, in his first year as a GM, was a key piece of Cleveland’s front office when Njoku was drafted. Head of football operations Sashi Brown traded up to get him, giving the Packers a fourth-round pick to move up four spots.
Njoku, who turns 24 next Friday, is coming off a lost season. He broke a wrist Week 2 against the Jets and missed 10 games, clashing with then-coach Freddie Kitchens about when he was ready to return. He finished the year with five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in four games. His best year was 2018, when he caught 56 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns.
Despite the additions of Hooper and Bryant and the return of Pharaoh Brown and Stephen Carlson, the Browns envision a prominent role for Njoku.
Stefanski, who was hired in January, loves tight ends and uses them a ton. The Vikings, with Stefanski as coordinator and play caller, led the league in 2019 by using two tight ends on 57 percent of the snaps.
“I really think there is a way to get all these guys on the field — sometimes at the same time and sometimes not,” Stefanski said after the draft. “I just think there is versatility in that position. Being able to move guys around the formation is a very big deal. The more we have in the room, the merrier.”
While the offense will have a heavy focus on tight ends, Njoku could be concerned about a lack of touches in a huddle filled with playmakers. He’s behind receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and Hooper in the pecking order.
Njoku attended workouts with teammates hosted by quarterback Baker Mayfield in May in Austin, Texas.