CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns struggled to find touches for running back Duke Johnson during the 2018 season, even after they settled on rookie rusher Nick Chubb and traded veteran Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars midway through the year, and now, the backfield is a little more crowded.
On Monday, the Browns signed free-agent running back Kareem Hunt, who is facing league discipline because of a physical altercation with a woman at a Downtown Cleveland hotel last February, but the transaction has not affected any plans for the backfield, at least not in the short term.
“I think Duke Johnson is a fine football player,” Browns GM John Dorsey said in a press conference at team headquarters following the signing Monday.
“What it does is you have three very quality, really four quality individuals. You have three veterans in there now. I don’t think it makes him expendable yet. What you have to do is you have to go back and research your options and see moving forward what’s best for the organization.”
After leading the Browns with 74 catches during the 2017 season, Johnson Jr. caught just 47 passes and got 40 carries. Despite the lightened workload, Johnson averaged a career-high 5.0 yards per carry and matched a single-season personal best with three touchdown receptions.
In two years with the Chiefs, Hunt rushed for 2,151 yards and 15 touchdowns with 106 first downs, 19 plays going for at least 20 yards and four 40-yard gains. Additionally, Hunt caught 79 passes out of the backfield for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a single-season career high of seven in 2018.
As a rookie in 2017, Hunt rushed for an NFL-best 1,327 yards on 272 carries, an average of 4.9 yards per attempt, which earned him a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team.
Hunt was a third-round pick of the Chiefs in the 2017 NFL Draft, and with him remaining on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, even though the Browns signed him, he is not eligible to play until cleared by the league office.
“We always talk about having competitive depth,” Dorsey said. “That’s a good thing to have.
“That means you’ll have good competitive depth in training camp.”
A native of Willoughby and graduate of South High School, Hunt was released from his rookie contract on November 30, 2018 when video surfaced of him pushing, and later, kicking a woman at The 9 Hotel in Downtown Cleveland. Since that video became public, reports of other incidents involving Hunt have surfaced.
After the announcement was made official by the Browns, Hunt released a statement through the team first apologizing for his “wrong and inexcusable” actions, and then, pledging to learn from his mistakes.
The 23-year old Hunt, a product of the University of Toledo, was released by the Chiefs after video of the incident went public and contradicted his story. During the video, Hunt was seen having to be physically restrained by another member of a group that had gathered in the hotel hallway.
“We have two separate things here,” Dorsey said. “We have the egregious act and we have the football player. Now, what you have to do is take that person, and if the person is truly remorseful and he owns up to his mistake, he seeks to be a better man, I’m okay with a guy trying to get better.”