David Njoku

Why A.J. Green trade doesn't make sense for 49ers unlike other big names

Why A.J. Green trade doesn't make sense for 49ers unlike other big names

I've argued that the 49ers should pursue trades for New York Jets star safety Jamal Adams and Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku. The latter certainly would be accomplished the easiest of the two, though the former is worth the extra trouble. 

I stand by both of those arguments as each player would be an upgrade over what San Francisco already has, while both are young and still have bright futures ahead of them. Though he surely is quite talented, the same cannot be said of Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green.

Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox recently listed the one personnel move he believes each NFL team should make before the start of the 2020 season, and a trade for Green is precisely what he recommended for the 49ers. That is one big-name player, however, that San Francisco has very little reason to consider.

For starters, time simply is not on Green's side. Unlike Adams and Njoku, who both will be 24 years of age when the season starts, Green will be 32. Then there's the matter of availability. Unlike Adams and Njoku, Green has quite a long injury history, posting only two full seasons in the last six, while missing 29 games over the last four. That number includes the 16 games he missed last season while sitting out the entirety of the campaign.

Both of those matters could be easily overlooked for the purposes of this coming season -- if not for one major deterrent. As Knox pointed out, the 49ers could have a major need at receiver, depending on the health of Deebo Samuel. 

"Though the recently oft-injured Green may no longer be the elite pass-catcher he once was, he could be the sort of reliable and consistent veteran San Francisco had in Emmanuel Sanders over the second half of 2019," Knox wrote. "Adding Green would give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a go-to target in clutch situations. It would also provide insurance for second-year wideout Deebo Samuel, who suffered a foot injury while training this offseason."

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If only it were that simple.

That aforementioned deterrent is a financial one. Green will make nearly $17.9 million on the franchise tag this coming season, a salary San Francisco couldn't absorb without shedding a significant amount of other expenses. Not to mention, the 49ers have to leave open the possibility that they might have to use the franchise tag on George Kittle. 

And that's just for this coming season. 

Green reportedly doesn't want to play on the franchise tag, and the Cincinnati Enquirer's Tyler Dragon reported in December that he wants to be paid like "one of the best receivers in the NFL." Obviously, that would mean a significant, long-term financial commitment, which the 49ers can't realistically offer him. Assuming Kittle is re-signed to a lucrative contract extension, they have nowhere near that kind of room in the salary cap moving forward to be able to pay Green what he is seeking.

And that's another area where the potential pursuits of Green and Adams differ. San Francisco is led by one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. Coach Kyle Shanahan is a luxury in the respect that he is able to get more out of his offensive weapons by scheming them open, which is why you don't see any large salaries -- Kittle aside -- at San Francisco's skill positions. 

[RELATED: Mahomes contract could put pressure on 49ers signing Kittle]

Shanahan, though, doesn't have nearly as much impact on the defensive execution. He is more reliant on the talent of the personnel on that side of the ball, which is why the 49ers have paid large annual sums for the likes of Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Richard Sherman. Adams would help in an area that Shanahan cannot. 

Green could be extremely effective in Shanahan's system, but it would be fiscally irresponsible to a tremendous degree to funnel the team's remaining resources to an aging receiver who might not be any better than what San Francisco already has at this point. Not to mention, the cost it would take to acquire Green from the Bengals. 

They had every opportunity to trade him last season, when they surely would have received a massive haul in return. Cincinnati then invested the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on quarterback Joe Burrow, whose transition surely would be aided by having a veteran receiver like Green to throw to. So, it seems highly unlikely that any team could acquire him on the cheap. 

If San Francisco is going to invest both draft and financial capital in a difference-maker, it needs to be on someone who is a certainty to both improve the odds on and extend the current championship window. Green doesn't check either of those boxes for the 49ers, which is why they're extremely unlikely to do what it would take to acquire him.

49ers' Kendrick Bourne 'likes' tweet about David Njoku trade rumors

49ers' Kendrick Bourne 'likes' tweet about David Njoku trade rumors

Kendrick Bourne just wants to see the 49ers offense be the best that it can be.

After NBC Sports Bay Area's Brian Witt published a story Friday arguing that San Francisco should make a trade and pair Njoku with All-Pro tight end George Kittle, Bourne was one of the hundreds who "liked" the tweet (screenshot H/T Brian Witt).

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Njoku requested a trade from the Cleveland Browns on Friday, his agent confirmed to ESPN's Adam Schefter. His frustration likely comes from Cleveland's decision to sign tight end Austin Hooper to what currently is the largest salary at the position (Kittle is expected to change that) and that the Browns selected a tight end in the fourth round of this year's NFL draft (Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant).

Njoku has one more season remaining on his initial rookie contract. Cleveland already has exercised his fifth-year option for 2021, when he'll make just over $6 million in base salary.

[RELATED: Tom Brady's Joe Montana, Jimmy Garoppolo connection made him 49ers villain]

Kittle's contract situation likely will keep the 49ers from making any major investments for the time being, as the tight end's new deal is expected to reset the free-agent market at the position.

The Browns' reported asking price of a first-round pick would make this a quick conversation for general manager John Lynch, who hasn't shown much willingness to part with any high draft picks in years past.

Nevertheless, fans will continue to clamor for anyone who can help make coach Kyle Shanahan's offense one of the NFL's best.

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.