The offseason drama and turmoil in Cleveland will apparently carry over into the regular season. DeShaun Watson’s punishment was handed out last week to the tune of a very underwhelming six-game suspension, which has been appealed by the NFL. Now one of Cleveland’s primary offensive weapons, Kareem Hunt, is not only sitting out training camp but is also requesting a trade.
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports that the Browns have denied Hunt’s initial request, but that stance could change as we get closer to the regular season. This contract dispute with Hunt could be seen by many as a distraction as the preseason begins. And knowing Cleveland, it probably will be.
Hunt’s request throws a huge wrench into Cleveland’s offensive game plan. The Browns have built their offense around a two-running back system over the past couple of years. During the 2020 season, Hunt and Nick Chubb split, carrying the ball just about down the middle. Chubb carried the rock 190 times and Hunt 198.
Cleveland made the playoffs in 2020 for the first time since 2002, riding their two running backs. The Browns have already shown they’ll do anything to win by trading for Watson and all the deserved scrutiny accompanying him. While Cleveland has denied Hunt’s request for a trade, it might not be a bad idea to go ahead and grant him his wish, especially if you have no plans to cash him out anytime soon.
If the Browns are dug in and refuse to pay Hunt, then they might as well get the best deal they can for his services. Part of this could be them waiting to find out about the league’s appeal of Watson’s six-game suspension. Cleveland would be in quite the pickle if the NFL’s appeal is successful and Watson’s suspension becomes 12 games or possibly the entire season.
Sure, they could roll with Jacoby Brissett, but many feel this Browns team could be back in the playoff hunt again this year. Yet, without a proven starting quarterback, those plans could quickly evaporate. There is a proven QB on the market, though. One who just goes out and wins and leads his team to the NFC title game in two of the last three seasons.
Jimmy freaking Garoppolo. Why not? Like Hunt, Garoppolo is also in the last year of his current deal. The money on each player’s contract is very different, so that would need to be worked out. But if there’s one thing we know above all else about 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, it’s that he loves to run the ball. With Trey Lance taking over in San Francisco as QB1, the Niners are open and looking for Jimmy G trade partners. I think this makes perfect sense on the field.
Of course, this scenario only works if Watson misses most or all of the 2022 season on suspension. Hunt is still young enough (27) and has spent most of his career in a running back by committee offense. In his three years with Cleveland, Hunt has just 319 rushing attempts. Some of this is due to injury, but more of it is him splitting carries with Chubb.
When you compare that to a running back like Ezekiel Elliot (26 years old) in Dallas, it’s night and day. Elliot rushed over 300 times in three of his first six years in the league, and we’ve all seen his decline over the past couple of seasons. Elliot carried the ball 322 times during his rookie campaign alone. Hunt’s barely done this over three years in Cleveland, so he should be pretty fresh in comparison. He averaged nearly five yards per carry last year which was the most since his rookie year in Kansas City.
If I’m the Browns and Watson is out this season, then I pick up the phone, call John Lynch and offer up Hunt for Jimmy G. Obviously, the 49ers will likely ask for picks along with Hunt, but Cleveland still has a few picks leftover and should be willing to accommodate. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Garoppolo, but dammit, at a certain point, you just can’t ignore results.
What Jimmy G does on the field isn’t pretty, but he wins. And that’s supposed to be the point here, winning. Let’s not forget the Browns acquired Amari Cooper in the offseason via trade from the Cowboys. He made Dak Prescott look magnificent at times and could do the same for Garoppolo in this offense. Plus, he’d still be handing off to Chubb in the backfield.
For now, I think the Browns are just waiting to see what happens with Watson. If he’s out less than 10 games following the appeal, then there’s no reason to trade for Jimmy G, and they’d probably want to keep Hunt in Cleveland anyway. But if the appeal is successful and Watson is just gone, now you have a valuable trade piece in Hunt and can proceed accordingly.
This is a crazy situation the Browns find themselves in, but it only fits, given their history. There are a few franchises I’d feel confident could navigate these choppy waters, but the Browns aren’t one of ‘em.