Will the Houston Texans try to trade for Duke Johnson of the Cleveland Browns?
One of the largest looming questions heading into the NFL offseason was where and when free agent Kareem Hunt would sign after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs due to a domestic violence allegation and video.
That question was answered on Monday when Hunt signed with the Cleveland Browns according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
No matter what the opinion from the common public (and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) with Hunt off the field is, denying that Hunt is unequivocally talented, and will be a difference maker for the Browns is wrong.
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With that being said, new Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens will have a tough time dividing snap shares between Hunt and other talented young backs in Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson, when Hunt comes back from his suspension.
That may lead the Browns parting ties with Johnson due to the prior success and Pro Bowl talent of both Chubb and Hunt.
In 2018, behind Chubb and Carlos Hyde (for six games as Hyde was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars), Johnson saw his touches diminish from a career average of 155.3 to just 87.
That scenario from last season gives a potential preview for how Johnson might be used in the future with Hunt now in the fold in Cleveland.
Browns general manager John Dorsey was asked about dealing Johnson after acquiring Hunt and, his response, via Pat McManamom of ESPN, goes as follows:
"“I don’t think it makes him expendable yet.”"
Keyword on yet, as Dorsey is presumably waiting for Hunt’s fate to be dealt with by the NFL before trading Johnson.
Texans general manager Brian Gaine could be one of the first in contacting Dorsey about Johnson’s availability, who is owed $3 million in 2019, $4.85 million in 2020 and $5.9 million in 2021. Of those money numbers, only $4.5 million is guaranteed to Johnson over that same span.
Johnson’s reasonable contract and probable availability is not the lone reason why he is attractive as a trade target. Since entering the league in 2015, Johnson has been a productive back while primarily playing in a similar role to James White of the New England Patriots, as a mostly pass catching back.
Johnson prides himself in versatility, too. The 5-9 back cannot only run in-between the tackles and make defenders miss, but he is also able to take over games as a receiver. Don’t get it twisted though, Johnson doesn’t just play out of the backfield as a receiver, he was featured all over the field for the Browns as a receiver due to precise route running and sure hands.
In four seasons with the Browns, Johnson has seen a similar workload both in the air and ground with very different results. In 299 career rushing attempts, he’s compiled 1,286 yards, good for 4.3 yards per rush, while also tallying five touchdowns. Through the air, Johnson career totals feature 2,170 yards on 235 receptions, an average of 9.2 yards per catch, with eight touchdowns.
To put his receiving stats in perspective, Johnson not only had a better catch percentage (75.8 percent) in 2018 as all the Texans running backs combined (73.4) on the same amount of receptions (47). Johnson also had 84 more receiving yards and one more receiving touchdown than the Texans running backs this past season.
In pass protection, Johnson has also proved to be a valuable commodity. He uses his 5-9, 210-pound frame to the best of his ability as a tenacious and willing blocker. That happens to fit the Texans needs as third-down back considering the poor performance of their offensive line in 2018.
The Texans could very likely see Johnson as a key cog to an offense needing another weapon alongside Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. Though the trade could trade and rely upon Goodell’s suspension length for Hunt in Cleveland, adding Johnson would add the punch that the offense really needs.