It appears the Browns and Duke Johnson will part ways in the near future. Already believed to be on the trade block, Duke Johnson has submitted a request to be moved, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports.
Since the Browns signed Kareem Hunt, the Jets, Texans and Eagles have been interested in Johnson, Cabot adds. Johnson did not show for the first day of the Browns’ offseason program.
When the Browns brought in Hunt, John Dorsey initially said Johnson was not yet a candidate to be moved. Hunt since incurred an eight-game suspension, making backfield depth paramount. But the Browns have been ruthless in moving on from talent acquired under previous regimes. Kevin Zeitler, Jabrill Peppers, Derrick Kindred and Emmanuel Ogbah have been the latest to go. Johnson, a third-round pick during the Ray Farmer regime, has been Cleveland’s passing-down back for four seasons.
Dorsey said recently he has not spoken to Johnson, but Cabot makes it clear the running back’s representatives have spoken to other Browns execs with the intention of being traded.
First-year HC Freddie Kitchens said Johnson would have a role alongside Nick Chubb, even after Hunt returns. But as Cabot points out, Odell Beckham Jr.’s arrival will likely push Jarvis Landry inside more often, decreasing the opportunities for Johnson to work in the slot. His lack of touches last season was already a point of contention, per Cabot.
“I don’t know why it’s assumed that we’re going to trade Duke Johnson,” Kitchens said. “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.”
The 25-year-old back is signed to a team-friendly three-year, $15.6MM contract. He is signed through 2021. Despite playing in 16 games, Johnson saw his scrimmage-yards total plummet from 1,041 in 2017 to 630 last season. His touches dropped from 156 in 2017 to 87 last year. The former Miami Hurricane still leads all running backs in receiving yardage (2,170) since entering the league (h/t ESPN’s Field Yates, on Twitter).
In signing Le’Veon Bell, the Jets already paid a premium for a pass-catching back. The Eagles just traded for Jordan Howard, but he has not been a prolific receiver. And Darren Sproles may or may not be retiring. The Texans just lost Alfred Blue to the Jaguars and were without D’Onta Foreman for much of last season.
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