Duke Johnson Jr. is in Berea for training camp and the Cleveland Browns’ brass have said they’ve had some good talks with the disgruntled running back and his representation.
Johnson asked for a trade after the Browns announced they were bringing on free agent and 2017 NFL rushing leader Kareem Hunt, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs following disturbing video of him kicking and shoving a woman in a hotel being made public. Johnson has spent his entire four-year career with the Browns.
The running back’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, met with Browns general manager John Dorsey and the team on Tuesday. Dorsey came away from the talk optimistic.
“Drew and I had a conversation yesterday — a very good conversation,” Dorsey told reporters. “We had a chance to discuss each other’s sides. I had a chance to state my opinions, he had a chance to state his opinions. This is the first day of training camp and it looks like Duke is here. So he’s reported to training camp.”
From the start, head coach Freddie Kitchens has maintained Johnson will be featured in the offense. Kitchens, who will assume the offensive play-calling duties for the Browns this season, expanded on that stance in the opening presser at training camp.
“He’s going to be here and he’s going to have a significant role in our offense,” Kitchens said. “He’s a productive player. We are not giving away good players. We want good players. If John can get more good players, I will take them. Don’t worry about the ball. We’ll find enough balls for ’em. We just want good players that can make plays.”
All that being said, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a team to praise a player and his value before trading him. That only benefits the Browns in the process of finding a trade partner.
So if Cleveland does decide to grant Johnson’s wish, here’s a look at what they could possibly get in return.
Finding the Value of Duke Johnson on the Trade Market
Historically, even very productive starting running backs haven’t fetched much in trades. Here are some trades for running backs over the last few years as a reference point.
- 2019: Eagles trade a sixth-round pick for Chicago’s Jordan Howard
- 2018: Browns get a fifth-round pick from Jacksonville in return for Carlos Hyde
- 2017: Oakland gets Marshawn Lynch from Seattle for a sixth-round pick
- 2016: Tennessee trades a sixth-round pick for Eagles back DeMarco Murray
- 2015: Bills acquire LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alonso
- 2014: Eagles trade for Saints’ RB Darren Sproles in exchange for a fifth-round pick
- 2013: Browns send Trent Richardson to Colts for first-round pick
If we’re looking at a comparison, the Darren Sproles trade in 2014 between the Eagles and Saints would be good. While he was a bit older at the time, Sproles was coming off a year with the Saints that he caught 71 balls for 604 yards. He also rushed for 220 yards on just 54 carries. He made the Pro Bowl in Philly the year following the trade.
Last season, Johnson had 47 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns. Like Sproles, he does most of his damage in the passing game. Johnson had 40 carries for 201 yards on the ground and both his number of carries and catches were career lows.
Johnson had over 500 yards receiving each of his previous three years with the Browns, earning him a reputation as a lethal target out of the backfield.
Johnson also carries a hefty price tag for a third-down back. Last offseason, he signed a lucrative three-year, $15.6 million extension. His contract value is the 13th highest among running backs, according to Spotrac, just behind Panthers running back Christian McCaffery.
Predicted value: The Browns would likely get back a fifth or sixth-round pick for Johnson in a trade. He’s still young and can be a real asset if used in an offense correctly.
While it would be great for the Browns to get a player in return to fill the void at RB, it would have to be a very unique situation for that to happen. If a running back is not in the mix, a mid-tier defensive tackle prospect would be a nice swap to add depth at a position that desperately needs it. However, as history shows, player-for-player swaps with running backs don’t happen often.
Timing of a Duke Johnson Trade for Browns
If the Browns are going to deal Johnson, the immediate thought is that the team will do it after Hunt serves his eight-game suspension. That makes the most sense.
But if not, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team deal him early in the preseason, giving the Browns time to work out their options to fill Johnson’s role behind starter Nick Chubb.
Dontrell Hilliard is in the mix to take on an expanded workload. Hilliard was acquired as an undrafted free agent a year ago out of Tulane and spent the first month of the season on the practice squad. After being elevated to the active roster, he appeared in 11 games but did not receive a carry. He did catch nine balls for 105 yards.
The team has been pleased with Hilliard’s progress this offseason, especially at OTAs, which Johnson was notably absent from.
“When Freddie (Kitchens) asked me to join him, he had high praises for Dontrell,” Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell said during OTAs. “He’s got to believe that he belongs and we expect him to come out every day and make plays. I think what he has to understand is that he has to believe in himself as much as we believe in him.”
But as Kitchens points out, Johnson is under contract and just one-year into his extension, the Browns hold all the power, especially with running back reporting to camp.
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