Trade Proposal Sends Browns’ Breakout RB to Top AFC Squad

Watson, Johnson, Browns

Getty Deshaun Watson #4 of the Cleveland Browns reaches to hand off to D'Ernest Johnson #30 against the Jacksonville Jaguars during a football game at TIAA Bank Field on August 12, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns continue sitting on an offensive asset with legitimate trade value that is only going up as teams enter the fourth week of the NFL season.

Running back D’Ernest Johnson, who started multiple games for Cleveland in 2021, has yet to play an offensive snap for the Browns this year. Johnson produced 534 yards and three touchdowns on just 100 carries last season in the best campaign of his young NFL career, which also included 19 catches for 137 yards.

There is no question the 26-year-old can play at the highest level, though it’s clear he isn’t going to see the field in Cleveland barring injury ahead of him on the depth chart — most likely multiple injuries.

It makes sense for the Browns to hoard running backs as a safety measure while quarterback Deshaun Watson serves the final eight games of his 11-game suspension, but the roster is still one rusher heavy.

Rookie Jerome Ford has supplanted Johnson on the depth chart, suiting up weekly to serve in a special teams role as a kickoff returner. Nick Chubb is having arguably the best season of any running back in the league through three games and backup Kareem Hunt has proven a solid complement, amassing 205 total yards from scrimmage and finding the end zone twice.

Even if one of the aforementioned three backs should suffer a substantial injury, it remains unlikely Johnson elevates to any kind of significant role in Cleveland’s offense — if he sees the field at all. Beyond that, Jacoby Brissett’s impressive performances late against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 and throughout the entirety of the Browns’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 indicate that the team may not need to rely quite so heavily on the rushing attack as initially thought.

All these factors add up to the conclusion that the Browns should find a trade partner for Johnson, and there should be no shortage of suitors in supply. Multiple contenders could use a player of his caliber, either to start or to add meaningful depth to the running back position. Two exist in the NFC West Division, the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers, while another exists in the AFC East — the division-leading Miami Dolphins currently sitting atop ESPN’s NFL power rankings.

Dolphins Make Sense as Trade Partner For Browns’ D’Ernest Johnson

GettyRB D’Ernest Johnson of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the first half of a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 20, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report on Wednesday, September 28, laid out the case for flipping Johnson to the Dolphins.

Cleveland has racked up 572 rushing yards in three games without relying on D’Ernest Johnson. Cleveland’s No. 3 back saw the field in Week 3 but only played 15 special teams snaps.

With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt leading the backfield, Johnson is nothing but depth for the Browns. He could be a huge asset for a running back-needy team, however, and his one-year, $1.2 million contract would be easy to move.

The Miami Dolphins should … consider sparking their ground game with a trade for Johnson. The Dolphins are 3-0 and retooled their backfield in the offseason. However, they have averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, tied for the second-lowest average in the league.

Browns Could Get Value For D’Ernest Johnson in Trade With Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins

GettyQuarterback Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins passes the ball during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

The Dolphins are a prime candidate for Johnson for reasons beyond their early-season status as Super Bowl contenders.

New head coach Mike McDaniel served most recently as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco. That franchise operates a zone rushing scheme that has helped the Niners earn trips to two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl in the last three seasons, and it is one McDaniel is replicating in South Florida.

The Dolphins are currently winning on the strength of their passing game, with young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa relying heavily on speedy wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. However, adding a legitimate zone rushing attack to an already elite passing game would solidify Miami as one of the premier offenses in the entire NFL.

That kind of potential presses the value of a player like Johnson upward. The running back already carries the trade value of a late-round draft pick, though his fit it Miami might allow for the Browns to push for a mid-round selection in return.

Read More