The Cleveland Browns were reportedly shopping running back Duke Johnson, but head coach Freddie Kitchens makes it seem he could be on the roster Week 1.
The Cleveland Browns have been one of the most active teams in the league since the new league year opened on March 13. Not only have they made a series of big moves, but they have also been a part of a variety of rumors.
One of the rumors circling the Browns was the team was shopping running back Duke Johnson, and they were generating trade interest from three teams. Since the Browns signed Kareem Hunt in February, Johnson became expendable.
However, Browns general manager John Dorsey said the addition of Hunt did not make Johnson “expendable yet” despite his statement making it seem Johnson would be being shopped around the league at some point.
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But at the NFL meetings on Tuesday, Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens did not seem too keen on moving Johnson, even with Hunt joining the Browns – via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay 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 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. And I know I’ve heard that a lot.”"
Johnson was Cleveland’s best offensive play-maker during the 2017 season, with most of his production coming as a receiver instead of running the ball. Johnson caught 74 passes for 693 yards and three touchdowns. He ended the season as the Browns’ leading receiver. He also had 82 carries for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Despite the strong season, Johnson was unable to play a large role in Cleveland’s offense last season after signing a three-year, $15.61 million extension in the off-season. And even after Todd Haley was replaced as offensive coordinator, Johnson’s role did not increase.
The 25-year-old played in every game last season, but only had 87 touches compared to his 156 touches in 2017. Johnson caught 47 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns last season. He also rushed the ball 40 times for 201 yards.
With Hunt suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 regular season, Johnson could see his role increase as the Browns backup running back behind Nick Chubb. And even if the Browns do believe moving Johnson is the best option for the team, they can hold on to him until the trade deadline before Week 9 to have an insurance policy behind Chubb until Hunt returns.
But even when Hunt returns, Kitchens said he could have Chubb, Hunt, and Johnson on the field at the same time. With Kitchens making it seem like he wants Johnson on the roster, the Browns motivations to move the running back may have calmed down.
Kitchens could be helping Dorsey in trying to boost Johnson’s trade value with his statement. Perhaps Johnson having a bigger role during the first half of the 2019 season and then Cleveland trading him at the trade deadline when Hunt returns also could net the Browns a better return if they decide to move him.