The Cleveland Browns have been investigating the free agent running back market but a reunion with Kareem Hunt appears to be off the table.
Hunt remains a free agent and is in search of his next home after a down final year of his contract with the Browns. Hunt rushed for 468 yards on 123 carries and his overall effectiveness dipped. He averaged just 3.8 yards per carry — a career-low — and his reps started to fall off towards the end of the season. Hunt — a former Pro Bowler and rushing leader — had more than five carries just once over the final five games.
There has been little reported interest in Hunt’s services and a return to the Browns is highly unlikely, per Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.
In a Twitter Q&A where he had to respond in four words, Grossi was asked about a potential reunion with Hunt. He responded: “Not in the cards.”
Browns general manager Andrew Berry was asked about the potential of bringing back Hunt as a free agent and didn’t completely shut down the idea, although he rarely shows his hand when speaking publicly.
“I don’t think we’ve necessarily shut the door on anything,” Berry said. “We’re not playing games until September, so we’ll remain open-minded to anything that can help the team.”
The Browns have been looking at depth pieces for the running back room in recent weeks. The team signed undrafted free agent Hassan Hall out of Georgia Tech and brought in former Broncos running back Devine Ozigbo for a workout this week. Cleveland also took a closer look at former Richmond running back Aaron Dykes, who could also be used in the return game.
Browns Roster Moves Show Confidence in Jerome Ford
The Browns have made some big moves this offseason but finding a veteran replacement for Hunt to play behind Nick Chubb has not been a priority. It speaks to the confidence the team has in second-year running back Jerome Ford, who is expected to take over that role.
The team selected Ford in the fifth round of the 2022 draft out of Cincinnati with the idea that he could eventually develop into a solid second option behind Chubb. Ford didn’t get a ton of work in his first season, registering just eight carries for 12 yards. But the Browns have been able to watch his development in practice and clearly feel like he has the skill set to spell Chubb when needed.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski commended Ford last season for embracing a role on special teams with both Hunt and Chubb ahead of him on the running back depth chart. Ford averaged 24.1 yards on 30 total returns.
“It’s just one of those things with your roster. Sometimes you have guys who are in front of you, and you just have to keep your head down and control what you can control,” Stefanski said. “I think he has done a nice job of that.”
Ford should have more of a chance to prove himself as a runner and pass-catcher next season in Cleveland.
“That’s something we’ll have to work through and see who earns that role so to speak,” Stefanski said in March. “But that’s definitely an area we need to look at, and Jerome’s a candidate for that. We’ll see how it goes through the spring.”
Nick Chubb Will Still Have Critical Role in Browns Offense
There has been some talk about the Browns shifting to a more pass-heavy offense next season but Stefanski — the team’s offensive play-caller — made sure to note that Chubb will still have a large role.
“Nick’s a major part of our offense — always will be,” Stefanski said. “He was I thought very productive last season and had a good amount of attempts. You’re always trying to get the best version of Nick. So that’s always part of our plan, to make sure he’s fresh for a 17-game season plus. Nick will always be a big part of our offense.”
It would be foolish for the Browns to not involve Chubb. He’s established himself as one of the most dynamic runners in the NFL and is coming off a year where he rushed for a career-high 1,525 yards on 302 carries, finding the end zone 12 times.