The Cleveland Browns have made a final decision on their offensive backfield for the immediate future.
Both second-row running back Kareem Hunt and former third-row rusher D’Ernest Johnson have been the subject of trading speculation in recent weeks. Hunt requested a trade in early August after expressing dissatisfaction with his contract situation. Johnson, on the other hand, was a healthy scratch in Week 1 as rookie RB and kick-returner Jerome Ford edged him down the offense and specialty team hierarchies.
Brad Stainbrook of The Orange and Brown Report wrote Monday, Sept. 12 that the Browns are ready to negotiate Johnson following the team’s Week 1 win over the Carolina Panthers. Stainbrook added that the organization is not actively buying back Breakout 2021, but reported that the team is interested in a deal for the right return.
However, Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo offered updated coverage on Friday that suggests none of Cleveland’s running backs are going anywhere for now, even those who don’t currently compete on Sundays.
Despite signing a one-year, $2.43 million contract on June 4, D’Ernest Johnson was a healthy scratch, leading some to speculate that the Browns could buy him.
However, multiple sources told Heavy that not only are the Browns not trying to trade Johnson, but Cleveland isn’t actively calling any of his running backs either.
It would make sense, especially with Cleveland navigating the next 10 games with Jacoby Brissett as quarterback until Deshaun Watson is eligible to return from suspension, to lean heavily on the game in progress and his prolific collection of backs.
Things can always change in the blink of an eye, but there’s no indication a trade with Hunt, Nick Chubb, or Johnson is even being considered at this point.
Browns’ rushing attack dominates in season-opening win
Lombardo’s logic is more or less unassailable after what Cleveland achieved locally in their season-opening win over the Panthers.
The Browns rushed for 217 yards as a team. Chubb led for 141 yards on just 22 carries for a devastating 6.4 yards per rush average. Hunt wasn’t sluggish either, putting up 46 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Wide receiver Anthony Schwartz contributed 20 yards on two rushing attempts while Brissett rushed for 10 yards in four carries on Sunday.
The Browns ran the ball 39 times as opposed to 34 pass attempts and utilized an offensive formula that fans can expect to remain consistent until Watson completes his 11-game suspension.
Cleveland’s running backs also contributed to the passing attack as Hunt registered four receptions for 24 yards and a touchdown. Brissett attempted only one pass to Chubb, which he caught for a two-yard gain.
Browns also intend to remain firm at quarterback, at least for now
Trade rumors surrounding the quarterback position have also been rife in Cleveland since the length of Watson’s suspension was announced. The lead contender has always been San Francisco 49ers signal caller Jimmy Garoppolo, both before and after signing a new one-year deal in the Bay Area that lowered his salary cap significantly.
The Browns have publicly expressed their desire to add another quality QB to the roster while Watson is out, despite current backup Josh Dobbs’ stellar preseason performances. However, the front office seems reluctant to spend big on the position despite having more than $37 million in cap space to work with.
The Athletic’s Zac Jackson broke down the situation on Thursday.
The Browns know Brissett’s limitations, but they trust his smarts, demeanor and experience to keep the offense going.
The passing game really isn’t going to scare anyone…but the truth is you’ll be getting backup centers to play as extra-tight ends, screen passes and hoping Brissett can avoid sacks and big mistakes like he did last week .
The situation under center and the Browns’ collective view of it could change quickly — the same thing, Lombardo noted, could happen in the running back room. The primary catalyst for such changes would most likely be losing.
Cleveland has a weak schedule in the first quarter of the season, hosting the New York Jets and backup QB Joe Flacco on Sunday and taking to the streets in Week 4 to face the Atlanta Falcons. There is a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in between these two matchups.
After that, however, the competition will be much tougher. The Browns face the Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their next seven games before Watson’s return.
A losing streak could push the Browns to either upgrade quarterback to save the season or ditch a running back and start maneuvering for 2023.
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