Browns Make Final Call on Running Back’s Future

D'Ernest Johnson

Getty Images D'Ernest Johnson of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns and running back D’Ernest Johnson have agreed to a new deal, bringing an end to a brief disagreement between the sides.

Johnson had refused to sign his unrestricted free agent tender with the Browns but ended up agreeing to a deal worth the same value of $2.43 million, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. However, the difference is his guaranteed money, which comes in at $900,000.

Johnson fired his previous agent and brought in Drew Rosenhaus this offseason, a sign that he was looking for some kind of reworked deal as a restricted free agent. However, he did not sign an offer sheet from another team before the deadline and the Browns held his exclusive negotiating rights.

While he didn’t cash in big after a breakout year, the new deal is a show of faith from the Browns, who already have a loaded running back room. He’ll be a part of a unit that includes Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton and fifth-round pick Jerome Ford.


Johnson Took Advantage of Opportunities With Browns

Johnson was very much on the roster bubble heading into last season, with Chubb and Hunt holding down the top two spots on the depth chart and Felton emerging as a threat in the passing game.

However, Johnson capitalized on his opportunities when his number was called upon, notching 534 yards on 100 carries with three touchdowns. He also collected 19 receptions for 137 yards.

Johnson has worked to make it in the NFL and could be on the precipice of all his hard work paying off. It was just a few years ago that he was working on a fishing boat after going undrafted to make ends meet. He also put in his time in the AFL, rushing for 372 yards and adding 22 receptions for 220 yards.

Johnson rushed for 146 yards in his first career NFL start last season against the Broncos, tallying 146 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

“D’Ernest Johnson to me is a warrior and a great teammate,” coach Kevin Stefanski said after the victory over the Broncos. “What he has fought through in his career and then to go have a night like that … I thought was just outstanding.”

He also excelled in the Browns season finale, adding another 100-yard game to his resume just days after coming off the COVID-19 list.

“Every opportunity, I try to take advantage of it,” he said, “and that’s what I did at the end of the day.”


Move Could Open Up Trade Talks for Browns

With a stable of solid backs, the Browns could get trade calls as the season kicks into gear. Hunt is heading into the final year of his deal and will be more expensive than Johnson to re-up as a free agent.

Hunt has been banged up with the Browns, playing in 32 of a possible 49 regular-season games. He dealt with both calf and ankle injuries last year. But the former NFL rushing leader has huge upside when healthy, with more than 5,150 yards from scrimmage and 44 touchdowns to his name over a five-year NFL career.

The Browns have an interesting situation playing out in their backfield, and as they say, there’s only one ball.

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