Kareem Hunt decision will be first test of Cleveland Browns new regime

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 22: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Cleveland Browns runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens in the game at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 22: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Cleveland Browns runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens in the game at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns now have their aligned front office and organization, and they will soon have a decision to make on Kareem Hunt.

The Cleveland Browns and former general manager John Dorsey received criticism last offseason when they decided to sign running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt was on the commissioner’s exempt list at the time after a video was released showing Hunt assaulting a woman. For many on the outside, it was a bad look for the organization to sign Hunt following the incident.

The Browns felt that bringing Hunt back to his hometown and putting him in their program and around the right people would help him grow as a person and reduce the potential of future incidents occurring. Hunt was suspended eight games for the incident, but the Browns remained committed to Hunt.

However, even when Hunt was in Cleveland’s program, he was unable to stay out of drama. In June, Hunt was allegedly involved in an altercation at a Cleveland bar, but it was determined Hunt was not a participant in the altercation and was only in the presence of the bar that the incident happened. Nothing came of the incident except for concern that trouble seemed to follow Hunt.

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All was quiet around Hunt until he served his suspension and returned to the field Week 10 wearing a Browns uniform for the first time. The 24-year-old played in the final eight games for the Browns, rushing for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries and caught 37 receptions for 285 yards and one touchdown.

Hunt proved to be a dynamic running back for the Browns who was a perfect complement for Nick Chubb. Hunt was making plays as a rusher and a receiver, but he also showed a willingness to block and did so well. When both Chubb and Hunt were on the field at the same time, it was difficult for a defense to line up and slow down the Browns offense in those formations.

However, despite Hunt’s clear benefits to the Browns on the field, there is a possibility he will not be on Cleveland’s roster in 2020. It is not because of his contract status this offseason, but because Hunt has found himself in another off-field incident.

Hunt was pulled over for speeding on January 21, but the police officer also found small amounts of marijuana and an open bottle of vodka in Hunt’s backpack. Hunt told the officer that he would fail a drug test had he been tested. The officer cited Hunt for speeding, but not for the possession of marijuana or the open bottle of vodka.

Although there will likely be few legal troubles arising for Hunt because of this traffic stop, the NFL may not look to kindly at Hunt having another off-field incident. The league said they were investigating the incident, but declined any further comment.

Even if the NFL determines to not discipline Hunt for the traffic stop, the incident could hurt his standing with the Browns. Not only is there a new group in charge with Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, but Hunt lost arguably his biggest supporter in the organization, John Dorsey.

Dorsey drafted Hunt in Kansas City, so the two clearly had a history together. Their history likely made Dorsey comfortable signing Hunt. During his two years in Cleveland, Dorsey was not afraid to add troubled players with the chance to improve the team. Adding players with troubled pasts created a poor culture that was a reason for Dorsey’s departure from Cleveland.

With the new staff in Cleveland, they will be attempting to turn around the culture of the organization, which seemed to become combative under Dorsey. With Hunt being a restricted free agent this offseason, they will have to decide if they want to prove a point right away to change the culture.

The Browns can tender Hunt and let him reach free agency, but have the chance of matching any offer that Hunt agrees to with another team or force another team to give up a draft pick in the round the Browns tendered Hunt, allowing the other team to sign Hunt.

Prior to Hunt’s traffic stop last week, it seemed like it was a guarantee the Browns would tender Hunt so they could have him on the field for a low cost in 2020. At the very least, they would add another draft pick. But now, Hunt’s value is likely diminished and he may not be viewed as a free agent to target for many teams. So if the Browns tendered Hunt with the idea of getting a draft pick, it may not happen this offseason.

The Browns may also view the traffic stop as more of a nonissue and continue to keep Hunt in their plans for 2020. Instead of signing Hunt to an extension, they could basically sign Hunt for a cheap, one-year deal to prove he has learned his lesson off the field and can contribute on the field, creating the dynamic one-two punch with Chubb.

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No matter how the Browns determine to handle Hunt’s contract situation this offseason, it will set the tone for the new regime. Are they willing to deal with off-field issues to keep a talented player on the roster? Or are they going to want to prove a point and not deal with the headaches of off-field issues? Berry may have just won the general manager job, but he already has his work cut out for him when it comes to deciding on what to do with Kareem Hunt.