The Cleveland Browns have a wealth of talent at the running back position, which could lead to some opportunities to trade either D’Ernest Johnson or Kareem Hunt — for the right price.
The Atlanta Falcons are a team in the hunt for a true No. 1 back and Johnson has been identified as a player they could look at as an option.
Johnson entered the last season on the roster bubble but capitalized on his opportunities when his number was called upon when injuries struck. He notched 534 yards on 100 carries with three touchdowns and was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated running back with a rushing grade of 90.6 — albeit with a smaller sample size. He also collected 19 receptions for 137 yards.
PFF named Johnson as a player the Falcons should explore acquiring before the start of the season. Here’s what author Doug Kyed had to say:
Johnson was a restricted free agent but signed a one-year contract with the Browns rather than inking his tender. An acquiring team would take on his $1.065 million salary plus up to $1.2165 million in incentives. It would only make sense for the Browns to trade Johnson if they hold onto Kareem Hunt. The Falcons added Damien Williams, re-signed Cordarrelle Patterson and drafted Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round but could still use a young running back with potential.
Johnson Worked Hard for Opportunity With the Browns
Johnson has worked to make it in the NFL. 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.
Heading into this season, Johnson had refused to sign his unrestricted free agent tender with the Browns. However, he ended up agreeing to a deal worth the same value of $2.43 million, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The difference is his guaranteed money, which comes in at $900,000.
But what hasn’t changed is the fact that Johnson is third on the Browns’ depth chart behind Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. And unless Hunt is dealt or injuries spring up again, the opportunities for Johnson will be limited. The idea of a larger role on a team like the Falcons is something Johnson would no doubt welcome heading into a crucial season for his future.
Kareem Hunt Would Like to Stay in Cleveland
Hunt’s future in Cleveland is also a bit murky as he heads into the final year of his deal. He’s expressed interest in staying with his hometown Browns but understands there are a variety of factors.
“Right now I’m just taking it day by day, man,” Hunt said on June 17, per Cleveland.com. “I’m going to see what they want to do with me and I’m just taking it day by day. Hopefully I can be here long term. We’ll see what God has in plan for me, that’s all I can say.”
Like Johnson, Hunt needs a big year to boost his value for the possibility that he hits free agency. When he’s healthy, Hunt is a dynamic back with big-play potential. He led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017 with the Chiefs and has proven to be a great partner for Chubb. He has more than 5,150 yards from scrimmage and 44 touchdowns to his name over a five-year NFL career.
However, he was banged up with ankle and calf injuries, so staying healthy will be priority No. 1 for Hunt.