What will Cleveland Browns do at running back after Duke Johnson trade?
The Cleveland Browns ended the Duke Johnson saga Thursday, trading him to the Texans. But how will they approach the running back group after his departure?
The Cleveland Browns made the long awaited move on Thursday, trading Duke Johnson to the Houston Texans several months after the running back requested a trade. In the deal, the Browns landed a 2020 conditional fourth-round pick, which could turn into a third-round pick if Johnson plays 10 games for the Texans.
The trade ended a long back-and-forth between the organization, who said they weren’t going to give Johnson away, and the 25-year-old running back, who said there was no reconciling with the franchise after his trade request.
Johnson was also not practicing during training camp due to a hamstring injury, which there is some speculation could have been a “nice version” of a contract holdout.
More from Dawg Pound Daily
- How the Browns could maximize Nick Chubb in 2023
- Can Deshaun Watson get to Patrick Mahomes level for Cleveland Browns?
- 3 Cleveland Browns who should see an expanded role in 2023 and 1 who should not
- Is Marcus Davenport on the Browns radar in 2023?
- 5 Free agents from Super Bowl LVII Cleveland Browns should target
But even after his trade to the Texans, the Browns have some depth at the running back position. Johnson’s trade request was motivated by the addition of Kareem Hunt, limiting the role Johnson would have in 2019. However, Hunt will not be available during the first eight games of the regular season.
With Johnson gone and Hunt suspended for the first half of the season, the No. 3 running back job would currently go to either D’Ernest Johnson or A.J. Ouellette. Johnson was signed after playing well in the AAF, rushing for 372 yards and two touchdowns on 64 attempts in eight games. Ouellette was signed early in training camp as an undrafted free agent due to the Browns having little depth at the position with Hunt and Duke Johnson nursing injuries.
D’Ernest Johnson would seem like the obvious option to be the No. 3 running back because Ouellette’s signing was simply a depth move. And after the trade, Johnson should get increased reps during the preseason and the rest of training camp to see what he can do in the Browns offense. If he manages to play well during the preseason games, he should have a good shot at making the 53-man roster as the third-string back.
But the Browns could be forced to make a decision if Johnson struggles in the preseason or does not make plays with his increased reps during training camp. In case the Browns have to deal with injuries, they’ll want to make sure they have a reliable No. 3 running back who can manage an increased workload. If Johnson is unable to do so, Cleveland may have to look elsewhere to add someone who can.
Even before the Browns started training camp, they were already taking a look at some veteran free agent running backs. The Browns worked out Orleans Darkwa and Akeem Hunt two weeks ago, before Johnson started to miss practices with his hamstring injury. However, the Browns passed on both running backs and have not held a workout for other veteran backs since.
The Browns not signing a veteran running back after Johnson’s injury could have been a sign they have confidence in D’Ernest Johnson’s abilities. And with Hilliard showing the talent to be the backup running back, the Browns may feel they do not need a veteran running back, at least as of yet.
With a roster spot open following the Duke Johnson trade, the Browns could use that spot to add a veteran running back. But the Browns may choose to use that roster spot to address another position group.
The Browns seem likely to see what D’Ernest Johnson can do over the next week or so. And with the Browns holding joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts next week, Johnson will be in a competitive environment to show what he can do. So even with a young running back group, it seems like the Browns will roll with that group for a little while instead of adding a veteran instantly.