Browns Running Back Named as Cut Material Prior to Camp

D'Ernest Johnson

Getty Images D'Ernest Johnson of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns are set to open camp soon and D’Ernest Johnson may be fighting for a roster spot.

Johnson was recently named by Bleacher Report as a player that needs a strong camp to remain on the roster — which isn’t an unfamiliar situation for the undrafted free agent.

Johnson entered the last season on the roster bubble but capitalized on his opportunities when his number was called upon when injuries hit the Browns. 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. He also collected 19 receptions for 137 yards.

While Johnson is coming off the breakout year, he still finds himself behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the depth chart, with rookie Jerome Ford and second-year jitterbug Demetric Felton also competing for snaps. Here’s what B/R had to say about Johnson’s situation:

ESPN’s Jake Trotter recently noted that Johnson could be the “odd man out” of the backfield, considering Chubb and Hunt are the starters and Felton and Ford are were drafted by the Browns over the past two years. Johnson may have signed a one-year extension earlier this offseason, but as Trotter noted, the 26-year-old only has $900,000 in guaranteed money.

It seems more likely that Cleveland would look to trade Johnson before releasing him. But if teams aren’t willing to part with anything (especially if they assume the Browns could be cutting him), then they may have no choice, because it’d be difficult to carry five RBs.

Offensive lineman Blake Hance and defensive tackle Jordan Elliott were the other players identified as needing strong performances in camp.

Trade of Johnson More Likely Ahead of Season

As noted, the Browns would likely look for a trade partner to take on Johnson before they cut him, especially considering how he performed last season in a pinch. But much of that will be contingent on how fast Ford comes along and if the team feels confident in him taking reps if a situation arises where either Hunt or Chubb are out.

Every year injuries arise in camp, which could open the door for Johnson to find a new squad that could offer a larger role. That could be the best-case situation for all involved, with Johnson needing a big year as he heads into free agency next offseason.

Johnson had refused to sign his unrestricted free agent tender with the Browns but ended up agreeing to a deal worth the same value of $2.43 million, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. However, the difference is his guaranteed money, which comes in at $900,000. If a team is interested in Johnson, those numbers should not be a deterrent in picking up a back who has shown solid upside when given the lion’s share of work.

Kareem Hunt Open to Staying in Cleveland

Johnson is not the only back in Cleveland thinking about his future. Hunt is also entering the final year of his deal and has been clear that he’d like to stay in Cleveland if the Browns will have him.

“I really don’t know what to think right now,” he said on June 17. “I’m just trying to go out there and show them I’m healthy, show them I’m ready to ball out for them as long as they want me to, so I’d love to here for a long time.”

Hunt — who led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017 with the Chiefs — has proven he can be a force. He has more than 5,150 yards from scrimmage and 44 touchdowns to his name over a five-year NFL career. But as long as he is in Cleveland, he’ll play second-fiddle to Chubb, a perennial 1,000-yard rusher who has shown the potential to lead to the league in rushing if he stays healthy.

But their partnership is also a beautiful thing and a luxury for the Browns, who are 13-6 when both Chubb and Hunt suit up.

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