February 11, 2019
Cleveland Browns have a crowded backfield but Duke Johnson is not expendable, for now
John Dorsey believes Kareem Hunt signing will create competition
Don’t look now, but the Browns backfield got a bit more crowded on Monday.
Setting aside the horrific video that went public and led to his release from the Chiefs, there is the business of football to now consider with the signing of Kareem Hunt, and his impact on the field and on the 53-man roster for the Browns.
Whatever penalty the NFL office hands down to Hunt, once he becomes officially eligible to step back onto the field this fall, he’ll provide head coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken with another weapon out of the backfield that already includes Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr.
Some might see that as a problem, but not Dorsey.
“That means you’ll have good competitive depth in training camp,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey declined to say if he felt pressure to sign Hunt now because other teams were prepared to take a chance.
“I can't speak for what other teams are doing, but we felt, after doing all of our extensive research, everybody, moving forward, thought that this would be something good to do,” Dorsey said. “Again, there's no assurances of anything. It's just part of doing the business of football.”
Dorsey clearly wanted to add another body to that room, so why Hunt and not another draft pick or free agent?
“I know this, if you talked to anybody who’s been in the locker room with Kareem Hunt, they’ll tell he was a really good teammate,” Dorsey said.
Hunt signed a one-year contract meaning that he will be a restricted free agent in the 2020 offseason and the Browns could match any offer he might get. Should Hunt not qualify to accrue his third NFL season this year, which means he needs to be on the active 53-man roster for 6 games, he would become an exclusive rights free agent next offseason.
Either way, Hunt is in the Browns’ control for the next two years.
On the field and the depth chart is where things get interesting.
Last year the Browns had three starting caliber running backs and they ended up trading away Carlos Hyde, who was signed to a three-year deal last offseason as a free agent, to make room for Chubb to get carries midseason.
The addition of Hunt doesn’t mean other changes are in the offing – at least for now – but could 2019 provide a similar scenario once Hunt is cleared to play?
“No, I think that's a situation, I think you deal with that down the road,” Dorsey said.
With Chubb being Dorsey’s second-round pick in 2018, it would stand to reason that Johnson, who signed a three-year, $15.6 million extension last year, might eventually be the odd man out. Both Johnson and Hunt can carry the ball and catch it out of the backfield.
“I think Duke Johnson is a fine football player, but what it does is you have three very quality, really four quality individuals. You have three veterans on there now,” Dorsey said. “I don't think it makes him expendable yet.”
We didn’t even mention Dontrell Hilliard, who is also still on the roster and is now the fourth back.
Chubb averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie while finishing just four yards shy of the coveted 1,000-yard rushing mark. He combined to score 10 touchdowns – eight on the ground last season.
Johnson tallied 201 yards on the ground, including a 5.0 yards-per-carry average, while adding 429 yards and three touchdowns on 47 catches out of the backfield.
Hunt brings a 4.7 yards per carry average to Cleveland after racking up 2,151 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground as well as 79 catches for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns in 27 games with the Chiefs.
On paper, setting aside Hunts troubles, the Browns are now stacked in the backfield and it’ll be interesting to see how, as Dorsey put it, the business of football plays out going forward.
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