Browns’ GM John Dorsey held a pre-draft press conference with the media on Thursday, and according to the video interview available on Cleveland.com, Dorsey told his audience that RB Duke Johnson wasn’t going anywhere when asked about the possibility of trading him:
“I keep telling you all, Duke’s a very talented football player. We see a lot of stuff for Duke moving forward in the future with regards to him. He’s a member of this organization moving forward. He understands the role he’s going to play within this offense and that’s what’s important. I look forward to seeing him on the field on Sunday.”
On April 1, Johnson did not show up for the first day of voluntary off-season workouts. Then, in an article posted April 2 on Cleveland.com, writer Mary Kay Cabot broke the story that Johnson’s agent, Kristin Campbell, had asked the Browns to essentially trade him. But what Campbell did not say was that Johnson’s request was because of the team’s signing of embattled former Kansas City Chiefs Kareem Hunt back in February. At that point after the Hunt signing, Johnson removed photos of him in regards to anything Cleveland Browns on his social media accounts.
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens has gone on record about whether or not to trade the talented RB:
“I don’t know why it’s assumed that we’re going to trade Duke Johnson. I don’t know why we would ever want to, like, just voluntarily give up a good football player. Duke Johnson is a good football player. Duke Johnson will have a role on our football team. All these guys that are here will have a role. I don’t know when it just became a necessity to trade Duke Johnson because we signed Kareem Hunt.”
Kitchens has made it known that they will need Johnson for the first eight games in which Hunt is serving his 8-game suspension; and then once they activate Hunt he intends to include Johnson, Hunt and Nick Chubb in his weekly game plan. Also on the roster are Devante Mays and Dontrell Hilliard.
Johnson was selected in the third-round with the 77th pick of the 2015 NFL draft after the Browns took DT Danny Shelton and C Cameron Erving in Round 1, and then DE Nate Orchard in the second-round. Cleveland also took DT Xavier Cooper late in the third-round.
Coming out of high school, Johnson was the number one RB according to rivals.com and won a state football championship. He also ran track as a sprinter and long jumper. He was named Florida’s Mr. Football. He then went to the University of Miami and started as a freshman gaining 947 yards with 10 TDs and named ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. From there, Johnson gained 920 yards and then 1,652 yards his junior season. He totaled 30 TDs for his career and had 69 receptions for 719 yards. Following his junior year, he was named First-Team All-ACC.
Johnson’s best 40-time was 4.51. Running backs taken before him in the 2015 draft include Todd Gurley (Rams), Melvin Gordon (Chargers), T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars), Ameer Abdullah (Lions) and Tevin Coleman (Falcons).
In his four-year tenure with the Browns, Johnson has gained only 1,286 yards on 299 carries with five rushing TDs and eight receiving TDs. As evidenced by his receiving skills in college, he has also contributed 2,170 receiving yards on 235 receptions. Johnson has only lost three fumbles.
Just last season the Browns signed Johnson to a three-year, $15.6 million dollar extension as his rookie contract was coming up for expiration. That in itself showed that the club valued his services especially in the passing game. But he had a paltry 40 carries last year only eclipsed by his 47 receptions. However, his averages are 5.0 per rushing attempt and 9.1 per reception.
Needless to say, Johnson felt under-utilized as a running back. And then came the Hunt signing. Johnson is a solid blocker and a QB’s best friend as an outlet receiver and able to take on bigger rushing LBs and safeties.
Immediately after hearing the news that Johnson wished to be traded, several clubs inquired about his availability including the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and Houston Texans. Since then, the Jets have signed former Pittsburgh Steeler La’Veon Bell to a monster contract. The only RB the Texans have signed is Josh Ferguson to a reserve/futures contract while the Eagles have not signed a single RB.
So what did Dorsey say about Johnson’s request to be traded? Did that change his outlook on Johnson’s role with the current Browns offense? This is what Dorsey said in the pre-draft press conference:
“When you sit down with Freddie and the coaching staff, they see him as a vital part of this offense. He’s a good playmaker. He’s going to help this offense move forward.”
Dorsey admitted that he has not actually talked to Johnson and that the player has not attended any team functions in the Browns’ facility since last season. Dorsey did say that Kitchens has been in contact with Ms. Campbell on several occasions, mostly via text messages. Dorsey did mention that Hunt has been a mainstay at the facility in workouts.
Johnson’s cap number is a mere $3.05 million for the 2019 season. If he is traded before June 1, the Browns will end up with $2.25 million of that in dead money. Essentially, the club would receive a $800,000 savings. However, if Dorsey trades Johnson after June 1, the dead money drops to $750,000 while the savings escalates to a receptive $2.3 million.
The NFL trade deadline is always at the end of October. Hunt will be activated prior to the Week 9 game November 3 on the road against the Denver Broncos. Squeaky coincidence?