D’Ernest Johnson is a Restricted Free Agent, so the Cleveland Browns have a right of first refusal if they extend a tender of $2.43 million, a classic no-brainer.
All it means is that the Browns have a right of first refusal. The club can offer him a contract (referred to as a “tender”). If they offer a big tender, an outside club would have to give the Browns a draft pick as compensation.
The Browns can either match the other club’s proposal or accept the draft pick and let the player jump to the new team for the price of the tender.
For 2022, according to Spotrac.com, values of the four types of tenders are as follows:
Right of 1st Refusal Only Tender: $2,433,000
Original Draft Round Tender: $2,540,000
2nd Round Tender: $3,986,000
1st Round Tender: $5,432,000
A first-round tender means that the new team would have to give the Browns a first-round pick, plus pay Johnson at least $5.4 million. That of course is outrageous, and almost nobody drafts running backs in the first-round anymore. That will not happen.
The second-round tender would result in the Browns getting a second-round draft pick if they fail to match the offer from a new team, and also seems way too high. The original-round tender means the original-round that the player was drafted in, but since Johnson was never drafted it cannot be used on him.
The lowest tender is only for a right of first refusal and does not involve any draft pick compensation. It is a non-guaranteed $2.433 million dollar offer. This is what Johnson will probably get.
Looking around the league, comparable veteran running backs at this level are James White of the Patriots, Rex Burkhead of the Texans, Carlos Hyde of the Jaguars, and Jeff Wilson of the 49ers.
White had 496 total yards from scrimmage and 3.46 yards per carry in 2020, his contract year; Burkhead 466 yards and 4.09 yards per carry; Hyde had 449 yards and 4.40 yards per carry; Wilson had 733 yards and 4.76 yards per carry.
Johnson had 671 yards and 5.34 yards per carry. There should be no doubt that Johnson will get offers above the tender offer, and probably multi-year, which the Browns would be obliged to match if they want to keep him.
If Johnson signs with another team, the Browns can match that offer, and Johnson remains in Cleveland. The Browns would probably match the deal unless it is much higher than the tender. The other team might still try to pry him loose by offering some compensation to the Browns in the form of a draft pick or a replacement player. As a guess, there would be a 90 percent chance that they would match a contract offer from another team.
Can the Cleveland Browns afford all their running backs?
There has been some thought this off-season that the Browns may not be able to afford to carry superstar Nick Chubb plus Kareem Hunt at $6.0 million (non-guaranteed, by the way) plus a hefty new deal for third-string Johnson.
But Hunt had an injury-plagued season, partly because of the bonehead refusal of the Browns coaching staff to use Johnson when both Chubb and Hunt were banged up early in the year. Hunt had a calf injury but the Browns did not want to put Johnson on the field versus Arizona even in garbage time. As a consequence, Hunt aggravated that injury and missed several games. That was a major coaching breakdown.
The other major coaching breakdown of the season was the refusal to run the ball against poor run defenses, especially in Pittsburgh and Green Bay, which statistically ranked 32nd and 30th in the NFL last season. Instead, they wanted to play arm ball with an injured Baker Mayfield. That major intellectual breakdown shakes the confidence that many of us had in the coaching staff.
So heck yes the Browns should afford three running backs. They actually need to give them the ball. Elsewhere, this author has also pointed out that the Browns offense under-utilizes Nick Chubb’s ability as a receiver (20 receptions on 25 targets for Chubb; compare to 74 catches and 94 targets for Najee Harris of the Steelers, and you realize why Baker Mayfield got sacked more often than Ben Roethlisberger even though Cleveland has a better O-Line and Baker is a tad more mobile that Ben).
The reluctance to target Chubb in the flat is pathologically bad football and needs to be fixed. It’s not due to concern of overworking Chubb when they have Johnson averaging 5.26 yards per carry over his three-year career and former Pro Bowler Hunt on the team as well.
Anyway, even if for some forlorn reason the Browns want to save money on the cap, should they keep the $6.0 million dollar back who had a recurring calf injury, or go with the $2.4 million dollar back who was not injured? You make the call. The Browns might be able to get a draft pick for Kareem Hunt, although having him on contract for just one year and coming off an injury-riddled campaign damages his value considerably.
Keep in mind also, that if Hunt plays out his contract and then leaves as a free agent, the Browns will be entitled to a compensatory draft pick to replace him. No, keep all three.
Johnson has no business being in the NFL, which is perhaps why the coaching staff seems to be adverse to playing him. His Pro Day 40 yard dash time of 4.81 seconds was so slow the staff was ready to go home waiting for him to finish.
But after that humiliating experience, he got with a training facility called Numa Speed Elite, which stands for Never Underestimate My Ability. Olympian Tim Montgomery took a special interest in him and basically put him through tortuous workouts, but got visible results. Truly, the Browns need to contract with this place.
What saved Johnson’s career was the Alliance of American Football, where Johnson tore the league apart (thanks to Courtney Kramer for saving the viral Instagram post in the form of a tweet). Most people laughed at that league, but Browns general manager John Dorsey recognized talent even when the computer said “no talent.”
He gave the kid a chance, and for three years he has been averaging over five yards per carry. What the heck, Browns? Please don’t let him go. You can say that it is all because of the offensive line, but so what? The Browns have that offensive line. So, staff the backfield with running backs who know how to take advantage of it.
No one in the NFL reads blocks any better than D’Ernest Johnson, and the yards count just as much if they are gained via head smarts and using the pulling guards, or via just blinding speed on the end-around.
NUMA has gotten incredible results from Johnson. He runs back kickoffs, and that simply is not possible with 4.81 speed. Again, the Browns should send a contract to send several other players to NUMA to improve their conditioning, and perhaps they can help avoid leading the NFL in hamstring pulls once again in 2022.
Bottom line, however, if Cleveland wants to be a run-first team, they should have no problem with keeping and feeding three quality running backs. The Browns do not need to shut down Air Baker, but they do need to use Nick Chubb as a receiver. It’s ridiculous to have him at the bottom of the league in pass targets among running backs.
They can use Johnson and Hunt to keep down the overall mileage total on any one back, and avoid putting players on the field when they are banged up, like they did last season. Keep all three, but since Johnson is the lowest cost option, it does not make sense from a cap management standpoint to just let him go.