Browns Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio Makes Plea to Injured Nick Chubb

Browns guard Joel Bitonio and Nick Chubb

Getty Images Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns is congratulated after scoring a touchdown by Joel Bitonio.

The Cleveland Browns put together an 11-win season and a playoff appearance despite several critical injuries including one to the team’s best offensive player, running back Nick Chubb.

That reality isn’t lost on offensive guard Joel Bitonio. The six-time Pro Bowler told reporters on Sunday, January 14, that he believes the Browns hit their floor in 2023, not their ceiling. Bitonio’s belief rests on the return of a healthy Chubb, who the offensive lineman said he misses and wants badly to return.

When were about to play Cincinnati, I was watching the first Cincinnati game and we were pretty healthy at that point in the season and I was like, “Nick Chubb’s pretty dang good at football.” You saw some of the runs he did.

Deshaun [Watson] was making plays with his legs. Jack [Conklin] and [Jedrick Wills Jr.] were healthy and I was like, “This is a whole different team.” I was watching from Week 1 to Week 18 and to see those guys already putting in the work this season in the training room and what they’ve done, it inspires me because I know those guys are coming back.

And I told Nick, I was like, “I want to be out there blocking for you again because I miss you.” And I appreciate everything he’s doing to try and get back on the field.

Browns RB Nick Chubb ‘Doing Great’ After 2 Knee Surgeries in 2023

The Cleveland Browns have missed the consistency of having Nick Chubb in the backfield.

GettyCleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb.

Chubb sustained a season-ending knee injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 that required two surgeries to fully repair. The running back has been rehabilitating ever since.

Reporters asked head coach Kevin Stefanski Sunday for an update on Chubb’s progress.

“I don’t have an update other than to say he’s doing great, he’s progressing,” Stefanski said. “He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do, if not more so. We’ll see how it goes.”

Jerome Ford Had Breakout Season, Could be Browns’ RB of Future

GettyCleveland Browns running back Jerome Ford.

Chubb left the Browns backfield in good hands with second-year rusher Jerome Ford.

Ford battled some injury issues, but still managed to appear in all 17 games and start 12 of them. He finished the season with 813 yards on 204 carries (4.0 yards per attempt) and 4 rushing TDs, per Pro Football Reference. Ford added 44 catches for 319 receiving yards and 5 scores through the air.

Ford’s breakout year is a sign that Cleveland may have found an eventual replacement for Chubb, who is entering the final season of a three-year, $36.6 million deal in 2024. Moving on from Chubb in favor of Ford two seasons from now will clear significant salary cap space for a Browns franchise that is going to need it, as Watson’s cap hit jumps to nearly $64 million next year.

The QB’s number will remain at that level for the life of his contract (through 2026) barring a restructure that will only push money down the road, not erase it from Cleveland’s cap sheet.

Meanwhile, the Browns must also consider the future of running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt served as Chubb’s backup for all four of the starter’s Pro-Bowl campaigns before the franchise parted ways with him last offseason.

Cleveland brought Hunt back into the fold in September following Chubb’s injury. Hunt rushed for 411 yards and 9 TDs across 15 games played for the Browns in 2023, adding 15 receptions for 84 yards.

Hunt will be a free agent in March and could test the waters, although that wasn’t his tune Sunday, according to Tom Withers of the Associated Press.

“I’m not going nowhere,” Hunt said.

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