NFL trade deadlines have come and gone, and the most representative set of positions in deals is running again. Christian McCaffrey (San Francisco 49ers), Jeff Wilson Jr. (Miami Dolphins), Chase Edmonds (Denver Broncos), James Robinson (New York Jets) and Nyheim Hines (Buffalo Bills) all find themselves on new teams, but there may have been more changes considering the news. Rumors surround the likes of Alvin Kamara, Cam Akers and Kareem Hunt.
They are especially interesting to me. Kareem Hunt has clearly shown the NFL world that he’s capable of being a standout figure in an attack. After all, he led the NFL in rush yards during his rookie season in Kansas City. He catches passes, he runs efficiently – Hunt hasn’t had a season averaging less than four yards per take) – and isn’t so bad at blocking passes that he becomes a liability. . Sure, he’s older now – Exactly 27 – but after years of working in the reserve role, his feet are probably fresh and ready to take on a big role in a new act. He even asked for an exchange!
The only downside to the deal for Hunt is that everyone knows his potential return as a lead and his price will likely reflect that potential. He is also a free agent after this season and will likely receive an RB1 salary starting next year. Also, given his value, his price tag will likely be significantly higher than Edmonds, Wilson or Hines. Perhaps dropping a moderate amount of draft capital on a potential rental isn’t worth your trouble.
That got me thinking… you know who avoids some of those downsides? Hunt’s backup, D’Ernest Johnson.
Johnson doesn’t have Hunt’s pedigree to secure a standout role, but in his limited opportunity as a return lead, the unfabricated freelance worker has shown a remarkable ability. tremendous power in generating leading numbers. Yes, he was working behind Cleveland’s offensive line, but so were Chubb and Hunt and no one complained when they succeeded. In his two games that started last season, Johnson scored 245 yards of charge in 41 attempts. That’s 5.98 yards per attempt. Johnson also showed great passing ability as he raced to 7/8 of the target in 58 yards in his second start. Despite Cleveland’s offense being treated absolutely in that by New England gameJohnson has proven capable, which means that even in a bad situation, the backtrack has the ability to thrive like a loser.
If you think two games aren’t enough to warrant a chance as a lead back, I agree with you…to an extent. I mean, Jimmy Garoppolo only started two career games before becoming San Francisco’s starter, and running back isn’t nearly as vital a position as quarterback is. You could take a shot on Johnson and not worry about sucking if he doesn’t pan out; just rotate someone else in.
Furthermore, Johnson would come cheap. Like dirt cheap. His current contract, which unfortunately ends after this season, has him earning just over $1.2 million this year. Given his lack of experience in a major offensive role, it’s likely that even if Johnson popped off for another team, he wouldn’t have been as expensive as some of the other options going on the free agent market this coming offseason. Even if he didn’t pop off like the team who traded for him expected, they could’ve just let him walk as a UFA.
Not to mention, the price for Johnson would’ve been substantially less than any other back on the trade block. Jeff Wilson Jr. cost Miami a fifth-round pick? Johnson would maybe net a seventh. For a guy with that kind of upside, shoot, I’d take that any day of the week.
For someone playing in just their third season, Johnson is older than you’d expect. He’s 26, just a few months younger than Kareem Hunt who is playing in his sixth season. However, Hunt has 849 career rushing attempts under his belt. Johnson has 141. Hunt certainly hasn’t experienced the wear and tear you’d expect from someone of his talent, but for someone younger, cheaper, and has shown flashes of greatness given the opportunity, Johnson has so little wear and tear on his legs, he might be able to play at a high level until he’s 32.
Perhaps this is why the Browns were so close to trading Hunt. Ultimately, a deal couldn’t be reached, but maybe their confidence in Johnson as a backup persuaded them to listen to offers for the unhappy Hunt. I don’t blame them for not trading him. If a deal didn’t come along that gave the Browns the value they hold for Hunt, then they’d be stupid to make that trade. I blame other teams for channeling their focus on Hunt when a different, solid, less sure-fire (I’ll give them that) option was right under their noses.
Perhaps Johnson was never for sale and that’s why we never heard his name circling the rumor mill. We can’t be sure. All I know is that Hunt wanted a trade. He had a great market, and there was a capable backup waiting in the wings. Shame on the Browns for not trading Hunt, and shame on all 31 other NFL teams for not asking about Johnson.