CLEVELAND — It was less than two years ago that David Njoku asked for a trade from the Cleveland Browns -- a request that ultimately went unfulfilled.
But after two more seasons with the team and his free agency now approaching, the fifth-year tight end is singing a different tune when it comes to his career in Cleveland.
"I love it here. I love it here to the core," Njoku said during a media availability on Monday. "I honestly want to be here for the rest of my career."
But while Njoku said that he and his agent are currently working to turn that wish into a reality, there's no telling whether the two sides will ultimately come to an agreement before the former first-round pick is scheduled to hit the free-agent market this spring. Appearing in 16 of the Browns' 17 games, the 25-year-old was one of the few bright spots in Cleveland's passing attack this past season, catching 36 passes for 475 yards and a team-best four touchdowns.
While his raw box scores might not suggest it, Njoku's youth and athleticism could make him an appealing target on the free-agent market, with Pro Football Focus ranking the Miami (Fla.) product as its No. 43 free agent. Spotrac.com, meanwhile, projects Njoku's market value to be a four-year, $27.6 million contract, which would make him the league's 15th highest-paid tight end.
All things considered, such a deal could prove reasonable for Cleveland, especially considering head coach Kevin Stefanski's tight end-heavy offense. And while fellow tight end Austin Hooper is preparing to enter the third season of a four-year, $42 million contract, the Browns can waive the two-time Pro Bowl selection for a $3.75 million cap hit after June 1.
That's not to say that it's a lock that Njoku will be back in Cleveland, as the Browns -- like most teams -- have several moving parts in play this offseason. But taking the tight end at his word, if he does wind up elsewhere, it won't be because of a lack of desire on his end.