NFL Insider Notes: Browns win again with Kareem Hunt return date, impactful free agents still available and more
John Dorsey just made his first trade-deadline acquisition. Already! Only he didn’t have to give anything up. And it will cost him less than $2M to add a Pro Bowl-caliber running back.
The Browns strike again.
In a week in which Cleveland has dominated much of the headlines by orchestrating a blockbuster trade with the Giants to land Odell Beckham, Jr. (and Olivier Vernon, too), and adding Sheldon Richardson to fortify its defensive line to the point where Dorsey is now shopping lineman Emmanuel Ogbah, and gauging the market for dynamic third-down back Duke Johnson as well, it seems only fitting that the first week of the league year ends with more focus on the upstart Browns.
Dorsey and his staff now have closure on the suspension of Kareem Hunt, who they signed on a cheap one-year deal shortly after the Super Bowl. And Hunt’s eight-week suspension happens to match up right with the NFL‘s trade deadline. So I would couch it in those terms. Think of it this way: Dorsey now knows he will be acquiring Hunt – as long as he steers clear of any future violations of the league’s personal conduct policy – at the deadline to fortify his already-formidable roster for the playoff push. The Browns can hold on to Johnson well into October if they wish, add something at a position of need for Johnson in-season, and then get a super-motivated Hunt, playing for his NFL career on a one-year deal, down the stretch.
The coaches can ride Nick Chubb and Johnson – assuming the Browns now wait to trade him, as would seem to make the most season – in the first half of the season, knowing their workload is about to subside my midseason, similar to what Sean Payton did with Alvin Kamara early on, knowing Mark Ingram was about to return from suspension. With Ingram out the first four games, Kamara averaged 26 total carries plus targets in the first month of the season – and averaged 32 in Weeks 3 and 4 alone – then had more than 22 carries-plus-targets just once the rest of the season.
That’s probably not lost on Freddie Kitchens, either.
The Browns will have Hunt around all offseason to learn the offense, focus on pass protections and get to know his coaches and teammates. I’d figure they would keep him in bubble wrap during the preseason games – why risk a season-ending injury to a guy you already know can’t play until November, anyway – and then watch Hunt take their offense to another level when the weather turns and the aches and pains of the season become acute and the best teams start to separate from the pack.
Hunt, entering his third season, will be a restricted free agent after the 2019 season and the Browns can place a high tender on him to facilitate a trade, or decide they love this two-back rotation with Chubb, who had some injuries woes in college. They will have options and control the running back’s future beyond these nine weeks he will eligible to play next season (not including at least one home playoff game; there, I wrote it).
Dorsey wins again.
His 2019 offseason is already starting to feel like his triumphant run through the spring and summer of 2018 (which sort of kicked off last March 9 when he fleeced one of his former teams, the Packers, to get talented safety Damarious Randall for already-broken-by-Hue-Jackson backup QB DeShone Kizer). And while he won’t be able to dominate the first two rounds of the draft this year as he did a year ago, he will still have a strong say in the second day of the selection process – where he could draft the best player available and load up on depth at thinner positions – making Cleveland a more attractive place to play all the while.
And as long as Hunt stays out of trouble and continues down the path he has been on since the ugly video of him kicking a female surfaced midseason, he can now circle the date when it’s time to put the pads back on for real – in the Browns’ ninth game of the not-yet-finalized 2019 schedule. I’ll take a wild guess and say it will be against a top AFC opponent. And, most likely, in primetime.
More notes from the first week of the league year
- Now’s the time when some team’s medical guys can really earn their keep. There is a group of potentially impactful free agents still on the market after the first wave of free agency is over who have dealt with significant medial issues in 2018 (several are listed below). None of them is likely to break the bank, and a few will surely provide some serious bang for their buck in 2019. And plenty of teams still have need at their positions.
- Tyler Eifert‘s injury woes run back several years, and a move out of Cincy seems inevitable. The Jags don’t seem to have any tight ends on their roster. I’d give it a shot. … After all the money the Packers have spent fortifying their front seven this week, they should do what they have to do to bring back Mo Wilkerson (though, man, it seems like he’d be a heck of a fit in New England or Baltimore, too). Yes, he had another lost year due to injury, but he knows that defense inside and out from his time with Mike Pettine in New York, and the Pack is trying to win right now.
- Nick Perry is healthy enough to be on an African safari. Green Bay shut him down a year ago after another freak injury when he was pushing to return, and he has flashed plenty of pass rush and is still under 30. It would seem to make sense for the Colts, Seahawks and Chiefs, off the top of my head. I mean, the Chiefs are going to actually field 11 dudes on defense this year, right?
- Eric Berry‘s injury woes have been acute, but he too could pass a physical at this point and there are not many better human beings in this game. He is a natural leader and inspiration, overcoming cancer and returning as a top-flight safety before a chronic heel injury sapped him of basically two seasons. He is as motivated as ever, is only 30, and people around the league think a return to Dorsey – who was his GM in K.C. – is inevitable. We’ll see if that’s the case, but I am all about bringing him into my locker room on an incentive-laden deal that will reward him if he can stay healthy.
- Everyone likes to award their winners and losers now, with the dust just settling after the first wave of big signings. But it is a long slog until September and some teams have more work to do than others. The Cowboys in particular bear monitoring. They have most of their DL – the strength of the team – either suspended or angry about having a second franchise tag placed on them. They have plenty of holes on the roster, without the willingness to break the bank for guys like Earl Thomas, despite their seemingly-endless revenue streams. They haven’t spent big on payroll in years, and now they have Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke Elliott and Byron Jones all with their hands out, and they still need to navigate that tag situation with Demarcus Lawrence. Pivotal offseason to say the least, and after watching marginal guys hit home runs in free agency in many cases, I don’t see many bargains here. If anything, other execs believe Jerry Jones might rue the day he digs as deep as expected to start taking care of his own, beginning with the QB.