On Monday, the Cleveland Browns made the biggest news of the NFL offseason thus far when they signed free agent running back Kareem Hunt. In late November of last year, a video from February 2018 was released that showed Hunt shoving and kicking a woman outside of a hotel room in Cleveland. He was quickly placed on the commissioner’s exempt list and released by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Hunt had apparently lied to the team about the severity of the incident and his actions, which broke any trust the front office had in him. The move comes as no surprise since John Dorsey, who drafted Hunt, is Cleveland’s general manager. How will this addition impact the Browns, both on and off the field, as well as the rest of the NFL?
Hunt’s fit with Cleveland is interesting. The Browns began the 2018 season with Carlos Hyde as the starter, Duke Johnson as the third down back/pass catcher, and rookie 35th overall pick Nick Chubb was the third-stringer. Six games into the season, Hyde was averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and while he had five touchdowns, he wasn’t the big-play threat that Chubb had already proven himself to be, as evidence by his 16 carries for 173 yards and two scores.
Dorsey traded Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars in order to force head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley to use Chubb. By the end of the year, Chubb had rushed for 996 yards and eight TDs on 192 carries, adding in 20 catches for 179 yards and two scores. He had reached 1,000 rushing yards during the final game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens, but his last carry went for negative yardage, costing him that feat.
Johnson is one of the most dynamic backs in the game, even though his 47 receptions in 2018 were the fewest of his career. He can line up as a wide receiver, which gives head coach Freddie Kitchens many different options to use both him and Chubb.
At the time of his release, Hunt was a top 5 RB in the league. During his rookie season, he led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,327 and eight TDs, and caught 53 passes for 455 yards and three scores. In the 11 games he played last season, he had 824 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, and 26 grabs for 378 yards and a stellar seven receiving touchdowns. He is also a capable pass blocker, making him an excellent all-around back.
The Browns have Baker Mayfield, one of the league’s brightest young stars, at quarterback, but with the addition of Hunt, there’s really no way they can’t be primarily a running offense. With Hunt, Chubb, and Johnson, Cleveland has the best runningback stable in the NFL, and a devastating ground attack will make life easier for the young quarterback. Furthermore, Hunt will be playing on a one-year contract worth just over $1 million, a ridiculous bargain for the Browns. He will be a restricted free agent after the season, so it’s quite possible that Hunt is a member of the team for a long time, as long as he keeps his nose out of trouble.
Yet as good of a football move as this signing is, it has come with a large amount of backlash, which isn’t unjustified. Hunt has been out of work for just a little over two months, and although he has undergone alcohol and anger management counseling, there is no guarantee that he has changed as a person. Dorsey is no stranger to taking character risks.
In Kansas City, he drafted Tyreek Hill, who plead guilty to domestic violence against his pregnant girlfriend in which he choked her and threw her down a flight of stairs. Hunt was rumored to have alcohol issues in college, but Dorsey took him anyway. In his first draft with Cleveland, Dorsey selected Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who had been in trouble multiple times for marijuana possession, credit card fraud, and sexual assault. And now there are rumblings that the Browns may select Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, who is on video pummeling a woman on the ground when he was a senior in high school.
From now on, Cleveland will be linked to players who have shady pasts. It’s good that they are willing to give people second chances, and their zero tolerance policy should help to convince Hunt and Callaway to stay clean, but there will be a stigma that follows the team.
Hunt is still waiting on a pending suspension from the league, which will have ramifications for future decisions on similar situations, including the Washington Redskins’ Rueben Foster. The NFL must decide how much a video counts for; defensive end Greg Hardy was suspended for four games due to a domestic violence charge, but that was not caught on film. The league was chastised for its light punishment of a severe crime, and will likely come down hard on Hunt just to prove it does not tolerate violence. The Browns should prepare for the worst, and expect Hunt to miss at least eight games, if not more. He should return to the team just in time for a late-season playoff push if everything goes according to plan.
It was bound to happen at some point, and it really isn’t very surprising that John Dorsey was the one to give Kareem Hunt another chance. The move is likely to pay off for Cleveland on the field, but the resolving of his situation will have ramifications across the league for years.