Every time Head Coach Kevin Stefanski is asked how he’s going to split up the touches for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, he starts with the above statement, “It’s a nice problem to have.” With all the offensive weapons the Browns have amassed, spreading the ball around is a nice problem to have. But with all this offensive talent, running back seems to be on talent overload. This fact is amazing, considering the running back position is the least valued position on offense in today’s NFL. The average playing time for a running back is 3 to 4 years, so teams tend not to keep or sign their own running backs to long term deals. It’s cheaper to draft a player after a few years. Could the Browns find a way to keep both Hunt and Chubb for 2021? It’s possible.
As pointed out in an excellent article by fellow staff writer Chris Evans on this site titled “Kareem Hunt Keen on Browns Extension” the Browns have a minimum commitment to Hunt at 3.259 million for 2020. Chubb’s four year contract is valued at 7.4 million and because of the rules of the CBA, the Browns can’t talk extension with him until after his third year. Pro Football Focus has Nick Chubb ranked as their number one running back. Here’s what they wrote, “Chubb has been the best rusher in the NFL since being drafted in the second round by the Browns in 2018. He is the only running back with a PFF rushing grade north of 90.0 over that two-year stretch, and he joins Derrick Henry as one of just two running backs to average over 4 yards after contact per attempt on 100 or more carries. You won’t find any negatives on Chubb’s resume in the broken tackle department, either. No matter which way you cut it, bringing this man to the ground is not an easy task.”
Both Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb are 24 years old. Their running styles are vastly different. Chubb can run between the tackles and has break away speed. Hunt is more of a out of the backfield running back who catches the ball very well. Hunt has been sitting in on both running back zoom meetings and wide receiver meetings. Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt has also hinted Hunt could be used as a third receiver in some sets. Both are excellent in yards gained after first contact. To say they compliment each other is an understatement. Both have expressed their desire to win over individual statistics. So can the Browns keep both heading into the 2021 season?
Looking at the 2020 Browns salary cap situation, the team is currently 37.3 million over the cap. According to Over The Cap, the Browns are 36.2 over a proposed 2021 cap of 215 million. NFL salary caps are based on the on the future earnings for the year the cap is proposed. So the 2020 cap of 198.2 million is based on proposed earnings in 2020. It’s safe to say earnings for 2020 will be down thanks to COVID-19, so the 2021 salary cap may stay at 198.2 or go up very little. If the Browns spend wisely during the 2020 season, they could end up with about 30 to 35 million in cap carry forward for 2021. With expiring contracts and carry forward, that could translate into about 80 million over the 2021 cap, no matter what the proposed cap amount.
So again the question is, can the Browns afford to sign both going into the 2021 season? Yes they can. The team could offer Hunt a two year deal worth about 11 million, based on the fact that Hunt is one more off the field incident from being suspended for a year. The Browns have not only given him a second chance, but a third chance as well. As for Chubb, the Browns can offer him a three year deal worth around 35 to 40 million. If the Browns can front load both contracts with decent signing bonuses and back load them with team protections. These types of contracts will help the Browns with the Myles Garrett extension and the fifth year options for both Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward.
Keeping this running back tandem together is possible moving past the 2020 season, but will the Browns want to to do this? It’s a great problem to have.