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Dawson Knox contract projection, 2022

Following the David Njoku contract, here’s a fresh look at what Dawson Knox could make

Last week, the Cleveland Browns gave tight end David Njoku a massive contract extension. Of course, that led folks to immediately start connecting the dots to an upcoming contract for Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox, who is a free agent after 2022.

Personally, I think the Browns overpaid for Njoku, and if Knox is looking for that type of contract, he could be headed for a year playing on the franchise tag. Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys), Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins), and Njoku were all franchise-tagged by their teams this year to the tune of a one-year, $10.9 million deal. Njoku and the Browns beat the deadline to sign a long-term deal.

Knox finished 15th in the NFL among tight ends with 587 receiving yards, 11th in yards per catch (12.0 YPC), and tied for first with nine touchdowns. He was 18th with 50 catches. A top-ten contract would be what we would expect, and the nature of the game is that he’ll be paid near the top of the market since he’s a free agent.

With that in mind, here are some comparable contracts that the Bills and Knox’s agent will be looking at while they negotiate.

Comparable contracts

Mark Andrews
Baltimore Ravens (2021)
Four years, $56 million ($30 million fully guaranteed)

Andrews was unquestionably the top tight end in the NFL during 2021 and was the focal point of the Ravens’ passing offense. Signed a year ago, this should be the absolute ceiling of Knox’s deal, but because of the next contract on our list, it may very well be the exact AAV Knox signs. The difference is in the guaranteed money; Andrews is guaranteed three years and $38 million before his compensation drops to $11 million per season in the final two years. I don’t expect Knox to get three years of guaranteed money from Buffalo.

David Njoku
Cleveland Browns (2022)
Four years, $54.75 million ($17 million fully guaranteed)

With four touchdowns and 475 receiving yards on 36 catches, the only thing Njoku beats Knox on is yards per catch and that’s what the Browns are banking on. They hope he can take his explosive numbers and break out with a new QB throwing him the ball. Looking at those stats, you can probably see why I think a top-five contract for Njoku is a bad idea, but it’ll make Knox happy. Only one season is fully guaranteed, but this is a great example of “two seasons and then we’ll see” in contract writing.

Jonnu Smith
New England Patriots (2021)
Four years, $50 million ($31.25 million fully guaranteed)

Knox’s numbers best Smith’s 2020 numbers before he signed his big deal with the Patriots; 41 catches, 448 yards, and eight touchdowns with the Tennessee Titans.

Hunter Henry
New England Patriots (2021)
Three years, $37.5 million ($25 million fully guaranteed)

Henry actually had a better season than Knox in 2020 before signing with the Patriots. He caught 60 balls for 613 yards and four touchdowns with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Mike Gesicki
Miami Dolphins (2022)
Dalton Schultz
Dallas Cowboys (2022)
One year, $10.931 million (fully guaranteed)

The franchise tag is the absolute floor for Knox. In 2023, that is expected to jump for tight ends from $10.931 in 2022 to roughly $12.5 million.

Contract projection

The signing of Njoku really messed up the tight end market, or so it seems. Before that contract, Knox could have slotted in at just over $12.5 million per season in average compensation but now he’s worth more than a million dollars more per year.

There is more information to consider if you’re the Bills making the offer, though. Njoku averages $12.5 million over the first two seasons. Smith averages $12.5 million over four years but $13.4 million over the first two seasons and $12.6 over the first three years. Henry was paid $17 million in year one, but $27 million in his first two seasons averages out to $13.5 million per season. So when you calculate the contract average matters, too.

If you think about the franchise tag, you’re left with $12.5 million in 2023 and $15 million in 2024. That’s more than Njoku’s first two seasons of his deal, about the same as Henry’s first two years, and about the same as Smith’s first two years.

With those guiding principles, we can justify a two-year, $25 million contract for Knox, plus the same escalations as Njoku for when the market is going to go up. By 2025 when it goes up to $14 million, Knox will be in his prime and probably near to or outside the top ten in salary at a $14 million number. Maybe the Njoku template isn’t a crazy deal that escalated the market as much as it is one that’s going to go up alongside the market. The Browns can get out of it pretty easily after those two seasons if he underperforms, after all. On the flip side, Andrews has three full seasons guaranteed so his contract is a lot stronger, even if it’s close to Njoku’s in a lot of ways.

Four-year, $55 million extension ($20 million fully guaranteed)

I rounded up on the Njoku overall numbers but bumped him in guaranteed money. I just don’t see any way Knox and his agent don’t get more money than Njoku in the first two seasons and overall.

On the Bills’ side, general manager Brandon Beane doesn’t like huge inflation years on the back end of deals that have no shot of being earned. (The only notable exception is Von Miller.) He didn’t do it with Josh Allen or Stefon Diggs recently, either. It’s why Diggs’s contract looks so reasonable compared to the other WR deals this offseason, which included those fake numbers in final-year compensation.

With the $9 million signing bonus starting to count in 2022 plus a guaranteed $8.5 million option bonus for 2023, the Bills are able to spread out his cap hit over multiple seasons and it makes it incredibly likely he is here in 2024 season, too. He’ll get paid $26 million over the first two new years of the deal, and when you add in his $2.51 million in 2022, it’s still under $30 million for the next three total seasons of Knox. That’s a good deal for both sides.

The 2023 option bonus is a cap-management strategy and I added a 2027 void year, which would spread out that bonus over five seasons instead of four. If and when they sign him to a new contract several years from now, that would stay on the 2027 cap.

Here are some yearly breakdowns. They include the per-game bonuses Brandon Beane likes plus the workout bonuses he’s recently put into veteran contracts.

2022

Old signing bonus: $205,545
Old workout bonus: $30,000
New signing bonus: $1.8 million
Per-game active bonus: $225,000 LTBE ($15,000 per game)
Salary: $1.05 million (guaranteed)

Yearly cash: $10.305 million
Cap hit: $3,310,545

2023

Signing bonus: $1.8 million
Option bonus: $1.7 million (guaranteed)
Workout bonus: $200,000
Per-game active bonus: $255,000 LTBE ($15,000 per game)
Salary: $1.35 million (guaranteed)

Yearly cash: $10.305
Cap hit: $5.305 million

2024

Signing bonus: $1.8 million
Option bonus: $1.7 million
Workout bonus: $200,000
Per-game active bonus: $255,000 LTBE ($15,000 per game)
Salary: $7.945 million

Yearly cash: $8.4 million
Cap hit: $11.9 million
Dead cap if cut: $12.2 million

2025

Signing bonus: $1.8 million
Option bonus: $1.7 million
Roster bonus: $1 million
Workout bonus: $200,000
Per-game active bonus: $255,000 LTBE ($15,000 per game)
Salary: $12.62 million

Yearly cash: $14.075 million
Cap hit: $17.575 million
Dead cap if cut: $8.7 million

2026

Signing bonus: $1.8 million
Option bonus: $1.7 million
Roster bonus: $1 million
Workout bonus: $200,000
Per-game active bonus: $255,000 LTBE ($15,000 per game)
Salary: $13 million

Yearly cash: $14.455 million
Cap hit: $17.955 million
Dead cap if cut: $5.2 million

2027 (Void Year)

Option bonus: $1.7 million


If the Bills didn’t do this contract in 2022 and instead waited until 2023, the team would likely add another void year to keep spreading out the signing bonus and option bonus, but that would definitely guarantee he is here in Year 3 of the contract. Doing it now gives Buffalo flexibility to get out of the deal after Year 2 of the new contract.