The Cleveland Browns had their fair share of drama this offseason, most of it of their own doing around the quarterback position. Former starter Baker Mayfield wanted to be traded after finding out the team was visiting Houston. Even before QB Deshaun Watson agreed to come to Cleveland, Mayfield was done with the team.
Around the NFL, a few players have taken their contract demands to the team via a version of a “hold in.” Instead of staying away from the team, which is mostly non-existent for players under contract now, players show up to mandatory activities but do not participate. WR D.K. Metcalf, for example, did this before getting his contract.
For the Browns, RB Kareem Hunt has added to the drama with multiple reports, first by Josina Anderson, that he wants a new contract or traded. That report was backed up locally as well:
League source has confirmed the @JosinaAnderson report that #Browns running back Kareem Hunt has sat out team drills the last two practices as he seeks out a new contract. Hunt, who did participate in individual drills, is in his final season of his current deal.
— Chris Easterling (@ceasterlingABJ) August 6, 2022
Earlier this Offseason
Hunt’s desire for a new contract is not new. He talked about that desire earlier this offseason but seemed to talk about it as a wish or dream, not an expectation.
The change now is that it seems Hunt is expecting a new contract or to be traded, not just hoping to stick around with his hometown team. Hunt has even had members of the organization on hand for his charity events the last two years including the general manager this summer.
Timing Is Less Than Ideal
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
While we still have over a month until the start of the regular season, the timing of this decision is less than ideal. Teams have already allocated their financial and draft resources in many ways. An injury or desperate team could change things but Cleveland has also been planning around having Hunt.
In fact, we’ve seen multiple times different offensive sets that have included both Nick Chubb and Hunt in the backfield.
To stop doing team drills over a week into training camp is poor planning and timing by Hunt from the outside looking in. Perhaps Hunt and his agents believed this would put the Browns in a tough spot but, nonetheless, it isn’t appropriate timing to start the process.
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Unfortunately, finances do play a role in the NFL quite often. Despite a great deal of cap space this year, Cleveland’s cap commitments jump significantly next year. The team has also committed to Chubb as their lead back.
Very little has changed since this was written earlier in the offseason:
Chubb’s salary cap hit jumps from just over $5 million in ’22 to just under $15 million in ’23. If Deshaun Watson isn’t suspended for the entire ’22 season, his cap hit jumps $44 million.
With Jadeveon Clowney, Greedy Williams, Anthony Walker Jr. and others hitting free agency at the end of the year, Cleveland may need to put resources to other positions following this season.
Hunt currently is the highest-paid backup running back and a top 15 paid back annually. An extension would likely be as expensive or more moving forward.
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In any negotiation, leverage is an important piece of the puzzle. Hunt is attempting to leverage his role with the team, the possibility of a lengthy suspension for Watson and his overall talent to secure his desire.
The problem for Hunt is that Cleveland doesn’t have to bow to Hunt’s will, has talented backups at the position and seemed to have planned around his departure at the end of the season.
In the end, if nothing happens, Hunt will be playing for the Browns this year. While it may be begrudgingly, the team may accept that.
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Cleveland’s leverage with Hunt is clearly around the other talented backs on the field as well as other teams have already spent most of their resources.
The Browns leverage in the trade market is much lower. Hunt’s stance is now known, few teams value running backs highly at this point and, unless there is an injury, no contending team has a substantial glaring need at the position. While a different valuation, GM Andrew Berry had a similar issue trying to trade Mayfield.
The team doesn’t have to give Hunt a new contract and finding appropriate value in trade seems unlikely.
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It is also important to note where Hunt is at this time in his career. While it is important to note his role as a backup to Chubb, Hunt hasn’t been the impact player he once was:
Kareem Hunt in 2017-2018 with Chiefs – 19 Explosive Runs
Kareem Hunt in 2019-2021 with Browns – 5 Explosive Runs
Nick Chubb in 2019-2021 – 35 Explosive Runs
D'Ernest Johnson in 2019-2021 – 7 Explosive Runs
He ain't that dude anymore. https://t.co/0utIOT4NB9
— Pete Smith (@_PeteSmith_) August 7, 2022
He missed nine games last year due to injury. The two years prior, Hunt’s yards per attempt dropped to 4.2 after 4.9 and 4.6 in his first two years in the league. Last year, on only 78 carries, it jumped back up to 4.9 without a full workload.
To be fair, running backs often feel more comfortable when they are able to get a lot of carries in each game. They can get a feel for what the defense is doing better and feel more impactful.
Hunt has been highly active in the passing game with 122 receptions during his 32 games with the Browns. Even in this area, Hunt’s impact has decreased. In his first two years with Kansas City, Hunt averaged 10.5 yards per reception. That has dropped to 7.9 with the Browns.
Hunt is still very good but is he worth a decent-sized contract extension from Cleveland or another team? Has the last three years shown enough for another team to trade assets of value for him? Yes is a possible answer to both of those but would require some projection that the 27-year-old running back would revert to his Chiefs form.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Is it possible Berry is able to smooth things over to keep Hunt happy? Yes. Whether that comes from more money, an extension or just talking it out, Hunt has always loved playing for the Browns.
It is also possible that Berry could find a trade partner. His old employer in Philadelphia is always aggressive. Some have pointed out the possibility of using Hunt as a part of a trade for QB Jimmy Garoppolo. There also may just be a desperate team needing some kind of pop.
Projecting today, Hunt is likely to stay in Cleveland. He has more value to the team as is, even if disgruntled, than he would in any kind of trade.