The Cleveland Browns will reportedly place a right of first refusal tender on restricted running back D’Ernest Johnson.
The move allows Johnson to explore free agency to see if he finds a better deal, which general manager Andrew Berry can choose to match. If another team offers Johnson a contract that is more than the Browns are willing to pay and he leaves, Cleveland will not receive a draft pick in compensation.
But if no offers materialize, Johnson will play for the Browns on a one-year deal with $2.433 million.
#Browns intend to tender restricted free agent RB D’Ernest Johnson at the right of first refusal of around $2.43 million, per source. Johnson had some big moments for the Browns last year and appears in the plans for next year but could have trade value.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 11, 2022
Johnson proved to be a valuable insurance policy for the Browns in 2021 as running back Nick Chubb missed three games with an injury and running back Kareem Hunt missed nine. That provided Johnson the opportunity to take over as the lead back in three games, and he responded with:
- 146 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Denver Broncos in Week 7
- 99 rushing yards against the New England Patriots in Week 10
- 123 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 18
If Johnson returns to the Browns it will be interesting to see Berry decides to roll it back this season with all three running backs.
Chubb is obviously locked in as the undisputed No. 1 back, but Hunt is entering the final year of his contract that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million but no dead cap money, according to spotrac.com. If Berry decides that three running backs are a luxury, then he could look to move Hunt if the price is right.
The downside of moving on from Hunt is that he brings a needed spark to the offense - especially in the passing game - that the Browns were missing when he was out of the lineup last year.
In three seasons with the Browns, Johnson has rushed for 721 yards, three touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards per carry, while adding 28 receptions for 222 yards.