Browns, RB Kareem Hunt need each other, but team should trade him if situation turns ugly| Opinion

·5 min read
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt rushes for yards after taking a handoff from quarterback Deshaun Watson during the NFL football team's football training camp in Berea on Wednesday.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt rushes for yards after taking a handoff from quarterback Deshaun Watson during the NFL football team's football training camp in Berea on Wednesday.

BEREA, Ohio — No matter how misguided the method or inappropriate the timing, Kareem Hunt got his message across.

One need only check the Twitter account of Carly Teller, wife of Browns right guard Wyatt Teller, for confirmation of that.

“Being a loyal, long time Browns fan has got to be exhausting,” Carly Teller posted at 10:50 a.m. Sunday.

Less than an hour earlier, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com had reported on Twitter that running back Hunt had demanded a trade, which the Browns rejected.

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Carly Teller, whose husband was acquired in August 2019, later explained her comment. “I’m a Browns fan but I meant that tweet from a place of empathy for fans who have been on this rollercoaster for years!” she tweeted.

If she only knew. About 5,000 who have been trying to cope with the endless drama for decades indicated they appreciated the thought.

Hunt declined to participate in team drills on Friday and Saturday, revealed on social media by Josina Anderson of CBS SportsHQ that he was seeking a trade or a new contract. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wouldn’t say if Hunt had been fined, but Stefanski made it clear where he stood when he said minutes before the Browns took the field, “If our players are healthy, they practice.”

Hunt returned to team drills on Sunday, even getting the first two snaps with quarterback Deshaun Watson in a two-minute series near the end of the session. Those reps usually go to three-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb.

At least now the football world knows how Hunt feels. It also knows how the Browns feel with their reported refusal.

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) does his best to stay cool on the sideline during NFL football practice, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Berea, Ohio.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) does his best to stay cool on the sideline during NFL football practice, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Berea, Ohio.

The Browns realize they need Hunt. They learned that when he missed nine games in 2021 due to calf and ankle injuries and COVID-19. They will need him even more if Watson is suspended for a full season, a possible result of the NFL’s appeal on the six games Watson was given by former U.S. District judge Sue L. Robinson after 24 women filed civil suits accusing him of sexual misconduct during massage appointments.

If former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey, commissioner Roger Goodell’s designee, agrees with the league that Watson deserves a year for his violation of three clauses in the personal conduct policy, Browns running backs will have to carry the load. That means whoever sticks from the group that includes Chubb, Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, rookie Jerome Ford, John Kelly Jr. and running back/receiver Demetric Felton Jr., currently taking more reps at the latter position, will be counted on.

Without Watson in 2022, it’s hard to imagine a more running back-friendly spot than Cleveland.

In that instance, Hunt should have plenty of opportunities to prove he deserves more money. The final year of his contract carries only a $1.35 million base salary, but he will make a bonus of $200,000 for each game he plays, a total of $3.4 million for 17 games.

The Browns have salary cap space, but they should not cave to Hunt’s demands. Should the situation turn ugly, they should trade him.

The value may not be great for a back who just turned 27, even though he’s shared the workload with Chubb the last 2½ seasons. But there will come a time when the Browns can’t afford Chubb and Hunt. Perhaps general manager Andrew Berry would rather make that decision now, especially in the throes of the Watson saga.

They have been searching for Hunt’s successor for two years. In 2021, they drafted UCLA’s Felton in the sixth round. In April, they selected Cincinnati’s Ford in the fifth round. Johnson, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2019, turned in two 100-yard games last season and was one yard short of a third. He will be an unrestricted free agent next year.

None of those three are as dynamic a receiver as Hunt, the 2017 NFL rushing leader as a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Without Hunt in 2021, the offense was stagnant during an 8-9 season compromised by quarterback Baker Mayfield’s left shoulder injury in Week 2. Hunt plays with a hell-bent style that energizes his team. When Mayfield tore the labrum in his shoulder trying to make a tackle after an interception, Hunt said, “I told him to let me tackle him next time.”

That comment seemed to reveal the kind of team-first player Hunt has been since the Browns took a chance on him. The Chiefs cut him after video showed him pushing and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel in 2018. That and a physical altercation at an Ohio resort resulted in Hunt being suspended by the league for eight games to start the 2019 season.

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt smiles during an NFL football practice in Berea, Ohio, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt smiles during an NFL football practice in Berea, Ohio, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Hunt spoke about a contract extension at a youth camp he held at his alma mater, Willoughby South High School, in late June. But he laughed as he discussed it and media attending did not feel there was urgency conveyed.

"I hope I get paid," Hunt said then. “So you know, whatever they decide, they know I'm going to come out there and give it my all and I'll do whatever I can to help the team win."

It’s hard to tell why five weeks later Hunt thought it was a good time for a “pay me or trade me” demand.

Does he see the Browns' playoff chances dwindling ahead of the Watson appeal ruling? Does he want to get thrown into a potential trade for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo if Watson is suspended for a year and the Browns try to salvage the season?

It’s not hard to envision Hunt leading the league in rushing with the Kyle Shanahan-coached 49ers. But if Hunt is willing to keep his seat on the rollercoaster, there is money to be made in Cleveland.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns Kareem Hunt may have hastened his departure