Kareem Hunt landed back on his feet in Cleveland after seeing his tenure in Kansas City come to an abrupt end. Having only played half of last season due to suspension, Hunt is now ready to take the next step in his career in Cleveland as part of a formidable one-two backfield punch with Nick Chubb. The former Toledo and Kansas City Chief has even suggested he wants to remain in the Land long-term.
Hunt said on Monday during a video conference with the media there is “no question” he would like to stay in Cleveland for the long term. The 24-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2020 season. As it stands, Hunt will play out the 2020 season on a second-round restricted free agent tender. Although it isn’t a guarantee he will receive a long-term deal with the team, he is a major asset to the Browns despite his past off field troubles. Hunt appears to truly thankful to the Browns for giving him, not only a second but a third chance.
“I’m blessed that the Browns gave me another opportunity,‘’ he said on a Zoom call “So yes, I am lucky to have another opportunity to play football. You never know. Honestly, I’m just blessed to play the game, so I always feel lucky to play football. I know any second it can be gone. I guess so.” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam stated Hunt was on thin ice earlier this offseason after a further demeanor, but the Browns faith in the Toledo alum can’t be understated.
The Browns belief in Hunt has been evident from the start. This is reflected by the team’s investment of a $3.259 million second-round restricted free agent tender. It’s a small commitment by the Browns, but a commitment nonetheless to a talented running back who will have a major role, as he looks to gain the trust of his teammates and coaches alike, while helping the Browns to break their playoff drought. Hunt’s Browns career got off to a slow start, as former Head Coach Freddie Kitchens struggled to find a major role for the running back, but that appears something new Head Coach Kevin Stefanski is looking to rectify, with Hunt likely to spend more time at wide receiver this coming season.
Although Hunt was featured predominantly as a rusher in Kansas City, the Browns primarily used Hunt as a receiver out of the backfield, leaving the rushing to fellow back Chubb. In his eight games last season with the Browns, Hunt rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries, while also catching 37 receptions for 285 yards and one touchdown, which was third on the Browns in 2019. With few proven options behind Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver, Hunt could offer another viable option for Baker Mayfield, and be a greater presence in the passing game again this coming season.
Hunt could become a swiss-army knife for the Browns in 2020 as a receiver and as a rusher. Interestingly, the former Chief has done some virtual offseason work with the Cleveland wideouts, possibly preparing to get a bit of slot work in Kevin Stefanski’s offense. With Nick Chubb in firm control of the running back position, Hunt could earn the third wide receiver slot on the depth chart. The Browns tried a number of receivers as the third wide receiver in 2019, behind Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry, yet none could hold the job. This position remains wide open heading into 2020. Hunt has already impressed new Browns passing game coordinator Chad O’Shea, and will compete with Rashard Higgins, rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones, KhaDarel Hodge and Damion Ratley for the spot.
Although having Hunt spending more time at wide receiver may deplete the running back depth behind Chubb, it also creates more matchup nightmares for the opposite defense. Having to scheme to stop all of Beckham, Landry, Chubb, Hunt, David Njoku, plus newly signed tight end Austin Hooper will give defensive coordinators sleepless nights, and having players who are equally adept in the run and pass game, such as Hunt, will only make it harder for defenses. One thing is for certain – new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will have flexibility in terms of utilizing Baker Mayfield’s weapons. In particular, he reportedly plans to feature both Hunt and Chubb at the same time per Cleveland.com.
O’Shea has already spoke of his praise in the running back, “I’ve been impressed with him as a receiver as a running back. I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot at that spot, and I know that it brings great value to that position when you can be a threat in the pass game” O’Shea said. The former Dolphins offensive coordinator told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. With numerous accomplished pass catchers on the roster, Hunt will likely be the fourth/fifth option in the passing game, an obvious mismatch, if Mayfield can take the next step in his progression, don’t be shocked to see the Browns among the top ten passing offenses in 2020.
However, if Hunt excels in 2020, it would become incredibly unlikely Cleveland would be able to offer the former Pro-Bowl back a lucrative long-term contract. As shown in the past few years, signing running backs to big salaries on a second contract is a major gamble in the NFL, and one that hasn’t paid off for some teams. Most notably the Rams with Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman in Atlanta, and the Cardinals with David Johnson. Teams who rely on analytics, such as the Browns may not consider such a huge gamble.
Even though, Cleveland may want to keep Hunt long-term, it may not make sense to have so much capital tied up in a third wide receiver. In addition, with the Browns already having significant capital tied up in Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry and new tight end Austin Hooper, it would be shocking if Cleveland had so much money tied into the skill positions. In conclusion, with extensions looming for the likes of Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and possibly Baker Mayfield and Chubb, there just isn’t enough money to go around for everyone, and Hunt could be the odd man out.