The Cleveland Browns may soon learn that too much of a good thing can quickly turn bad.
That’s not to say that running back Kareem Hunt, or any other member of the Browns’ offensive backfield, is going to hurt the team by wearing the orange and brown. But too much redundancy on an NFL roster is counterproductive and often the opposite of cost effective.
Starter Nick Chubb earns more than $12 million annually at a position that is being increasingly devalued across the league from an investment standpoint. Breakout rusher D’Ernest Johnson just negotiated a new deal in Cleveland around the same time the franchise chose to use draft capital on Jerome Ford in the form of a fifth-round pick. Beyond that, running back Demetric Felton is all but certain to remain on the roster as the team’s No. 1 return man following a season-ending injury to the recently acquired Jakeem Grant.
All this begs the question: If you’re the Browns, why pay Hunt $6.25 million when he’s already made it painfully clear that he wants a trade or a new contract anyway? That money could be invested elsewhere on the roster, perhaps in a weak defensive line or a wide receiver position group lacking both experience and depth. Not to mention, because the Browns spurned Hunt’s requests, the RB is likely to walk out the door after the season, at which point Cleveland gets nothing in return for the asset.
Logic dictates the Browns at least consider dealing Hunt for a mid-round pick if they can find the right deal. Furthermore, the market for Hunt should be there, specifically in the form of the defending Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams or the struggling Atlanta Falcons.
Hunt Offers Browns Trade Value as Starting-Level NFL Running Back
One reason to keep Hunt is that the Browns boast arguably the best rushing tandem in the NFL when he’s healthy and paired up with Chubb. That could prove incredibly valuable if backup QB Jacoby Brissett struggles as the stand-in for Deshaun Watson while he serves an 11-game suspension to start the season.
Then again, Hunt’s value over his potential replacements in Johnson and Ford may not stand up to the scrutiny of a production/cost analysis, as Hunt will earn roughly $5 million more than Johnson and approximately $5.25 million more than Ford in 2022.
Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report on Wednesday, September 7, laid out the argument for moving Hunt to either the Rams or the Falcons at some point early this season.
Hunt has shown himself to be a high-end dual-threat running back, and he’d be a starter on most teams. Cleveland is also loaded at the position. … If it becomes clear the Browns can’t contend in 2022, they could be more inclined to part with the 2023 free agent.
Virtually any team without an established starter could benefit by acquiring Hunt. The Falcons are a great example. … The Los Angeles Rams would be another logical landing spot. They have an underwhelming backfield duo in Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. Neither has proved himself to be a high-end starter, and both are coming off injury-plagued campaigns.
Johnson Could Serve as Browns’ Trade Chip in Place of Hunt
Knox went on to note that Johnson could end up on the trade block instead of Hunt, but that would really only make sense were the Browns to commit to Hunt long-term.
Johnson is on just a one-year contract and will command less money as a free agent in 2023 than will Hunt, regardless of almost any foreseeable on-field circumstances that might develop this year. Trading Johnson without locking down Hunt for multiple years in the future would create the risk of losing both of them prior to the start of next season.
Depending on Ford’s progression and the continued durability of Chubb, who is entering just his fifth season in the NFL after earning trips to three consecutive Pro Bowls, might position the Browns to part ways with both Hunt and Johnson.
However, in the short-term, Hunt appears the more likely trade candidate, barring an injury to Chubb or a campaign characterized by massive output — like the one Hunt produced during his rookie season in 2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs, when he led the NFL in rushing and was named a second-team All Pro.