The Cleveland Browns have arguably the best group of running backs in the entire league, but that also means one of the three could be on the move sooner than later.
Depth is a luxury in the NFL, but redundancies often represent wasted salary and missed opportunities to improve another area of the roster. The Browns’ backfield trio of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson is a prime example. Running backs are as, or more, prone to injury than any other position on the field. Even so, there simply are not enough carries to go around in Cleveland.
Chubb is one of the best rushers in all of football and will enter the second season of a three-year deal worth $36.6 million in 2022. Translation: He’s not going anywhere. Thus, if the Browns do decide to part with a running back, the decision comes down to Hunt or Johnson. While it could go either way, one team insider believes Johnson is the better bet to wind up in another uniform at some point this year.
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Insider Believes Johnson, Not Hunt, Browns’ Top Trade Candidate
Scott Petrak of BrownsZone authored a mailbag on July 18 and offered his take on how the Browns are most likely to address their crowded backfield leading up to the start of the regular season in September.
[I] don’t think Hunt will be dealt. I just think he’s too talented and the return in a trade wouldn’t match his importance to the offense. The Browns may not be willing to give him the extension he wants, but he’s still incredibly valuable to them in 2022.
I think a much more likely scenario is D’Ernest Johnson is traded before the season. … Johnson is more expendable than Hunt. Johnson is also set to be a free agent after the season and isn’t as good as Hunt.
[But] If the Browns are out of the playoff chase by the trading deadline, Hunt could be moved.
Contracts could potentially play a role in who goes and who stays. Both Hunt and Johnson are playing on the final year of their deals in 2022. Hunt is owed $6 million, while Johnson will earn a little more than $1.2 million.
Johnson Would Be 2nd Browns Player Traded This Offseason
If Johnson is traded, he will join the likes of quarterback Baker Mayfield, whom the Browns dealt to the Carolina Panthers on July 6 to pave the way for Deshaun Watson’s eventual succession.
The hypothetical deal sending Johnson out of Cleveland would be the end of an unlikely success story spanning three years. Now 26, he landed with the team in 2019, when he was allowed just four carries for 33 yards. Johnson carried the ball 33 times the following year, amassing 166 rushing yards.
But in 2021, he had a breakout season, earning 100 carries for 534 yards and the first three rushing touchdowns of his career. Johnson also caught 19 passes for 137 yards, per Pro Football Reference.