Browns TE David Njoku says he'd 'like to stay' in Cleveland beyond 2021

David Njoku's future in Cleveland seemed in doubt this time a year ago.

Now, he sounds as if there's nowhere else he'd rather play football. Njoku spoke with reporters Friday and simply told them he doesn't have a desire to leave.

"I've been here for four years, knocking on five," Njoku said, via Cleveland.com. "I don't really know anything different. I'd like to stay here."

It's a stark contrast from where Njoku was at multiple points last season, his first in which he had to fight for playing time since his rookie year. Cleveland had spent the offseason bolstering the position group, first by signing the top free-agent tight end on the market, Austin Hooper, and then by drafting Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant.

Njoku went from unquestioned No. 1 tight end to somewhere between Nos. 2 and 3. He played just 39% of Cleveland's total offensive snaps. On multiple occasions, Njoku's representation requested a trade, while the Browns wisely refused to oblige.

Njoku hasn't statistically lived up to the expectations set by being a first-round selection, but his greatest attributes are still very much present, and he's worked on improving his weaknesses. Once seen as an athletic tight end with unreliable hands, Njoku posted his highest catch rate last season at over 65% of his total targets. And as a training camp highlight from Thursday proved, he certainly can still win a route and catch a pass over a defender.

Njoku had to battle for playing time throughout much of Cleveland's successful 2020 season, but he came up in the clutch multiple times down the stretch of the regular season and through the playoffs. In just the second playoff game of his career -- and in as many weeks -- Njoku caught four passes for 59 yards, helping the Browns restart their offensive momentum in the second half of what was a close loss to the eventual AFC champion Chiefs in the Divisional Round.

The prevailing sentiment regarding the tight end quickly morphed into something built on optimism, with the hope Cleveland could find a way to keep him in town beyond 2021.

"Any time you can limit distractions off the field, and that goes for anybody, you take care of business off the field and you're able to come into this building and handle and do your job," Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "David's playing with the mentality that he's trying to help our team out and that's what we want with everybody."

Njoku said Friday he changed his representation with the goal of focusing on what's best for his future, which he believes can be in Cleveland, leaving his year of discontent "in the past."

"Winning obviously cures almost everything," he said. "Just winning with my teammates here like I said earlier, it's not really any better feeling than that."

The Browns exercised Njoku's fifth-year option before the start of the 2019 season, which might feel like ages ago to many of the team's fans, and it's a good thing they did. Njoku's fifth and final season from his rookie deal affords him a chance to prove he can be a quality pass-catcher for the Browns, while also fitting into their scheme, which often relies on two-tight end sets.

Should he break out in 2021, the Browns might have to alter their plans. For Njoku, he'll be happy as long as his contributions help the Browns win.

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