49ers

Why 49ers should explore David Njoku trade with Browns after demand

Why 49ers should explore David Njoku trade with Browns after demand

The 49ers have the best tight end in football in George Kittle, but reportedly were interested in adding Austin Hooper in free agency to form undoubtedly the best 1-2 punch at the position in the NFL. Nothing came of that, of course, as Hooper eventually signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in March.

Though San Francisco never would have been able to offer Hooper that large of a contract -- the team has its hands full with Kittle's next deal -- Hooper's decision to sign with Cleveland could open the possibility of the 49ers adding another talented tight end. Ironically, that tight end happens to play for the Browns.

For now, at least.

Browns tight end David Njoku has requested a trade and would like to be moved before the start of training camp, his agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Friday. Cleveland reportedly expressed that it would prefer to hang on to Njoku, but the fourth-year player apparently has his mind made up.

"It is in David's best interest to find a new team at this time,"‬ Rosenhaus told Schefter.

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The motivation behind Njoku's request undoubtedly is tied to the Browns not only signing Hooper in free agency, but also using a fourth-round pick on Harrison Bryant -- who plays the same position -- in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The timing of the request isn't a coincidence either. On Wednesday, Njoku parted ways with his previous agent, Malki Kawa, and signed with Rosenhaus. Last November, Rosenhaus helped orchestrate a trade of another one of his clients, running back Duke Johnson, out of Cleveland after a similar request.

So, clearly, Njoku isn't satisfied with his current situation and wants out. It's understandable, not just for the aforementioned reasons, but also due to the fact that he was in Freddie Kitchens' dog house last season. Kitchens has since been fired and replaced by former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, but apparently the damage has been done.

Njoku, 23, is coming off a down year in which he sustained a broken wrist and a concussion in Week 2. He appeared in only two more games throughout the rest of the season, hauling in five receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown. The prior season, however, Njoku was impressive, catching 56 passes for 639 yards and four scores. 

A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Njoku is extremely athletic. He ranked in the 98th percentile in the broad jump (11-foot-1), 97th percentile in arm length (35 1/4 inches), 90th percentile in the vertical jump (37 1/2 inches) and 80th percentile in the 40-yard dash (4.64 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine.

To compare, Kittle -- who went in the fourth round of that very same draft -- ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at nearly an identical size, but otherwise performed worse than Njoku in each of those metrics. Kittle's arm and hand lengths also were considerably shorter.

Now, obviously, Kittle has developed into a force of nature and become the fulcrum of the 49ers' offense. He is a far superior all-around player to Njoku at this point, but if they played together, they'd likely both become even bigger mismatches than they already are.

Clearly, the 49ers like operating out of two tight-end sets. It allows coach Kyle Shanahan to have more creativity in his play-calling, particularly considering Kittle's excellence as a run-blocker. The reported pursuit of Hooper certainly was with that strategy in mind, and although Njoku isn't as good as Hooper, he could be a tremendous addition to San Francisco's offense.

Remember how dominant the New England Patriots were with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez? Both extremely talented players in their own right, they were nearly indefensible when put together. Kittle already is on that Gronk level, but the 49ers don't have a Hernandez-type to go with him. Njoku might be as close as they could get -- without all of the additional baggage.

Njoku will make $1.8 million this coming season in the fourth year of his rookie contract. The Browns also picked up his fifth-year option back in April, which will pay him about $6.4 million for the 2021 season. Though San Francisco doesn't have a ton of cap space to work with -- much of it has been set aside for Kittle's extension -- Njoku offers cost certainty for the next two seasons at a reasonable price. If the 49ers could get him without being forced to give up or get rid of something of major significance, it might be worth their while.

[RELATED: Report: Kittle's contract could land around $13M annually]

Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot reported Friday that the Browns likely would want a first-round draft pick in return for Njoku. That's downright laughable, and never going to happen. They'll be lucky to get a Day 2 pick from any team in the league, and San Francisco wouldn't do that either. A conditional Day 3 pick, perhaps? Now we're getting somewhere.

That might not be enough to acquire Njoku, but there's no reason for the 49ers to offer more than that. He would be a luxury for San Francisco, not a necessity.

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

Much like 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz's top receiving threat on the Philadelphia Eagles happens to be a tight end. But while the former two got great news Thursday with the announcement of George Kittle's and Travis Kelce's respective contract extensions, the latter's future outlook became even darker than it was before.

At this point, it's very difficult to see how Wentz will have Zach Ertz to throw to beyond this coming season. And even if he does, that likely means the Eagles won't be competitive to begin with.

Kittle and Kelce unquestionably are the two premier tight ends in the league -- in that order -- and they're now paid accordingly with the two highest annual salaries ever at the position. There's a shortlist of players in discussion for the next-best tight end in the NFL, and Ertz is on it.

Like Kittle and Kelce prior to signing their extensions, Ertz is under contract beyond the upcoming season. And like Kittle and Kelce rightfully were, he reportedly is seeking a raise commensurate with his production.

However, that's unlikely to come from Philadelphia. The Eagles already were going to be in salary-cap hell next season, and that was before Kittle and Kelce obliterated the previous tight end market.

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The Eagles currently are projected to have over $262 million in cap liabilities for next season. Last month, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed that the 2021 salary cap wouldn't drop any lower than $175 million due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But regardless of whether the 2021 cap decreases or remains flat at $198 million, Philadelphia is going to have to cut costs to a significant degree.

Though Ertz carries a $12.4 million cap hit in 2021 in the final season of his current contract, he already seemed to be one of the most likely candidates to be cut by the Eagles, as doing so would create an additional $4.7 million in cap space. Not to mention, they already have a younger, cheaper and arguably better tight end in Dallas Goedert who makes Ertz somewhat redundant.

Assuming the Eagles actually do sign Ertz to an extension, though, that would in all likelihood increase their 2021 cap liabilities and remove their ability to create immediate cap space by cutting him. They're already going to have to part ways with some of the best players on their roster, and signing Ertz to the kind of deal he is looking for would further deplete their depth.

[RELATED: Kittle's record 49ers contract still a huge steal]

Now, the Eagles definitely could lower their 2021 cap liabilities with some creative maneuvering. Look no further than the Chiefs, who managed to sign Mahomes, Kelce and star defensive tackle Chris Jones to humongous contract extensions this offseason despite having exactly $171 in total cap space on March 30. That said, Kansas City was nowhere close to the kind of 2021 cap trouble that Philadelphia already finds itself in, and no matter how creative the Eagles get, it's not going to change the reality of the situation.

That reality would appear to be quite dark whether or not they keep Ertz around.

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Perhaps nobody can relate to Tom Brady better than Joe Montana.

That might be as weird for Brady to read as it was seeing Montana play for Kansas City, considering Brady, a San Mateo native, grew up idolizing the Hall of Fame quarterback and rooting for the 49ers. But Brady has supplanted Dan Marino as sports radio callers' alternative to Montana in age-old "Which QB is better?" debates, and arguably has surpassed Montana as the greatest quarterback ever.

Brady, like Montana, will begin the twilight of his career in a uniform other than the one most associated with his journey to greatness. He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency after spending two decades with the New England Patriots, and Brady told Montana he didn't think his input was valued enough by the Patriots.

"I think that was one of his beefs up there," Montana recalled to USA Today Sports' Mackenzie Salmon in an interview published Wednesday. "He told me, 'They ask my advice, I tell them and then they don't take it.' So, I think he would like a little bit of input and I think they'll probably let him have that, especially with the success he's had."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Montana's two-season tenure with Kansas City is a blip on the NFL's historical record, but he wasn't a bust. Before Patrick Mahomes led the team to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances during the 2018 and '19 seasons (as well as a win in Super Bowl LIV), Montana was the only QB to lead Kansas City to an AFC Championship Game appearance since the first moon landing. Were it not for a concussion in the '93 conference championship, Montana might've helped Kansas City end its Super Bowl drought a quarter-century before Mahomes did. 

The Buccaneers would almost certainly take that, considering the franchise's anonymity since winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Montana thinks trading Foxboro's frigid winters for Tampa will do wonders for Brady's psyche.

"I think he's gonna have fun," Montana said. "He'll be in a better place for him mentally, he'll be happier and if you look at what they did offensively last year, they threw up some crazy numbers. So you add Tom into the mix and the big knucklehead tight end (Rob Gronkowski), and they'll be fun to watch."

[RELATED: Why Kittle's record 49ers contract still is a huge steal]

Brady, 45, is signed for as many years with Tampa Bay as Montana played with Kansas City. He already has two more Super Bowl rings (six) than his idol, and Brady will aim to top Montana once again by doing what he couldn't and winning a title with a second franchise.

If that happens, Brady and Montana might not end up with much left to relate to after all.