Cleveland Browns: D’Ernest Johnson contract increases trade value
Not to say it was intentional, but D’Ernest Johnson’s new contract may enable the Cleveland Browns to deal part of the three-headed monster at running back.
So why did the Cleveland Browns decide to guarantee $900,000 of D’Ernest Johnson’s previously 100 percent non-guaranteed $2.4 million one-year contract?
Under his old contract, the Browns could have just handed him a bus ticket at the end of summer camp and waved goodbye. In case of an injury, too bad. Now, they have to write him a check for $900,000. It is a class gesture to a player who has contributed for four years, but is there something more to it?
How the D’Ernest Johnson contract helps the Cleveland Browns in a potential trade
Upon further review, there may also be trade implications involved. Specifically, that amount of money comes off the price tag in the event the Browns were to trade him, resulting in a 37 percent discount to a new team that acquires his services. Moreover, putting the Haslams’ skin in the game, it provides evidence that Johnson isn’t going to be cut and be made available for free.
Thus, this deal may signal that the Browns are positioning themselves to trade a running back, and it might be Johnson. Up to this point, there has been no market for Johnson based on his current salary of $2.4 million, with zero guaranteed money. It may very well be that rival general managers up to this point have truly believed that Johnson would be cut at the end of training camp, and thus he would be available at a lower price, with no compensation to the Browns given up in trade.
That may be the same reason no team made an offer for Johnson as a restricted free agent this offseason. Cleveland tendered Johnson at the minimum level, which gave them the right to match any contract offer from another team. Restricted free agency is a bit of a farce because the other GMs know that Berry was going to match any reasonable offer.
This exact same scenario happened to KhaDarel Hodge last year. He too went through restricted free agency with zero offers. The Browns tried to trade him, but when it didn’t happen, he was cut and wound up in Detroit at a much lower salary.
This author chewed out Hodge’s agent last year in print for allowing his client to report with a contract with zero guaranteed dollars. It was easy to predict that he would be cut.
Based on Hodge’s debacle, opposing GMs could reasonably doubt the Browns’ intent to keep Johnson with $2.43 million worth of non-guaranteed dollars on his contract, given that they have a room full of talented running backs.
At the moment, in addition to Johnson, the Browns’ running back room contains Pro Bowler Nick Chubb, former Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt, last year’s sixth-round pick Demetric Felton, this year’s fifth-round pick, Jerome Ford, fullback Johnny Stanton, and fifth-year fringe player John Kelly.
So, if Andrew Berry were to have phoned another GM to talk trade, the conversation might have gone something like this, “No way, Berry! I’m not giving up a draft pick for DEJ! I know perfectly well you are going to drop him at the end of training camp, and I’m going to sign him for less money! No way is my team giving up a draft pick! Now, why don’t you throw in Owusu-Koramoah and we’ll talk!”
However, now that there is guaranteed money on the table, opposing GMs are forced to realize if they want a running back with a lifetime 5.2 yards per carry, they will not get him for free.
At press time, DPD was not able to verify if the $900,000 guarantee is a simple signing bonus, but if so, that check has already been written and would come out of the Browns’ 2022 salary cap (Browns beat writer Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram and Medina Gazette broke the story, but did not lay out the details). That’s the simplest assumption.
If this is correct, then if the Browns trade Johnson to a new team, the new team would be responsible for $1.5 million, because the Browns presumably have already paid out the $900,000 in the form of a signing bonus. That’s a 37 percent discount to the new team. On the next page, the market for running backs at this price range is discussed, and on page three the impact on Kareem Hunt and his agent is discussed.