"With the 35th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select Nick Chubb, running back, Georgia!"
It's been almost six years since the late, great Jim Brown approached the stand at AT&T Stadium to speak those words. With a deep, boisterous voice, the jubilation was hard to contain, even for Brown, one of football's most iconic superstars of yesteryear. In retrospect, his level of excitement should have been a sign of things to come for all of us. After all, very few who have walked this earth have been more qualified to spot explosive traits in a running back than the former Cleveland legend.
And explosive, it was. Chubb's six-year run with the Browns has been nothing short of spectacular. On the field as well as off, No. 24 has reached peak affinity levels amongst a fan base whose default setting drowns in negativity. With 6,511, 48 touchdowns, and a career yards per carry average of 5.3, Chubb has helped bring about a sense of stability to a franchise that, since it's rebirth in 1999 up until that spring day in 2018, had been anything but.
With that said, we must now have a conversation that absolutely none of us want to have.
Nick Chubb could be in doubt with the Cleveland Browns
After a catastrophic knee injury at the hands of Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Pittsburgh Steelers this past September, on Monday Night Football and with the entire country watching, tears of sadness dropped down the faces of many within Browns lore, players, coaches, and fans alike. Their favorite player and their captain, a superhero likened to Batman amongst the fan base, had fallen. It seemed almost cruel to have to continue playing two more quarters of football that night. And it showed at the end, as the Browns lost to their bitter rivals by a final score of 26-22.
"Nobody wants to see that carry in Pittsburgh be the last time he carries the ball for the Cleveland Browns", said General Manager Andrew Berry at his end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. "And obviously, there are things that we'll have to work through, but that would not be our intention, as well. We obviously will work to keep him on the team".
It must be asked, however, what exactly keeping Chubb on the roster would require. The Browns, despite having an aggressive front office and an owner in Jimmy Haslam who possesses deep pockets and the willingness to spend unlimited dollars to field the best roster possible, must plan for the exorbitant salary cap numbers for franchise staples such as Deshuan Watson, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Amari Cooper, among others. And Chubb, heading into the third and final year of his extension that kicked in after the 2021 season, is set to make just under $12 million in base salary in the year 2024.
With the, for lack of a better term, devaluation of the running back position in the NFL, it's fair to wonder if the Browns, who are one of the more analytically based front offices in the league, would view Chubb as a cut candidate. Making such a move would free up $11.825 million in cap space for an organization that is already depending on restructures to allow for player retainment and additions elsewhere on the roster.
In 2024 and beyond, priority one for the entire organization will be to have Deshaun Watson and the passing game set up for as much success as possible. The coaching staff and front office essentially confirmed as much with the hire of new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who was fired after 10 games with the Buffalo Bills earlier this season.
Soon, gone will be the days of an offense centered around two and three tight end formations based largely on the effectiveness of play-action from under the center. Dorsey, who, by some, is credited for the development of Josh Allen during his time in Buffalo, and former MVP Cam Newton prior to that, brings a scheme that focuses more on a spread passing attack out of the shotgun, which would seemingly better fit Watson, who holds similar traits to the two aforementioned quarterbacks.
It's also already being rumored that the Browns will be heavy bidders for some top free-agent wide receivers, such as Mike Evans, Calvin Ridley, and Tee Higgins, should they reach the open market. One can safely expect the Browns to primarily be a passing offense come September.
Add in the ease with which value at the running back position can be found in the mid and late stages of the draft each year, and it further adds to the complexity of the situation. Premiere running backs such as Kyren Williams, Isaiah Pachecho, and Rachaad White were all selected in the third round or later in their respective draft classes, and all come with cap hits that are pennies on the dollar compared to that which Chubb will carry next season.
Some at the position, like Jaylen Warren in Pittsburgh, can even be found in the undrafted pool. As such, many GMs across the league have begun looking in the third round and beyond for their production in the rushing game.
Of course, there are other options. Perhaps the Browns view Chubb as such a pillar to their foundation that they will allow him the ability to get healthy and finish out the contract as intended. Another option would be to cut Chubb initially, with the intention of immediately bringing him back on a cheaper, short term contract. Given the Browns' need to allocate funds elsewhere on the roster, mixed with what may be an uncertain market for Chubb if he were to hit free agency, it could benefit both sides to take this avenue.
Known for his ultra-professional, all-work, and no-talk demeanor, Chubb surely understands the business side of things, and Browns fans made it a priority to make it known how adored he is, both as a player and as a human being. That said, it's realistic that he will remain on the roster in 2024.
However, business always reigns supreme in the NFL. It will be up to Chubb, his representatives, and Andrew Berry to decide their priorities and come to an agreement. As fans of one of the best running backs we have ever seen, let's hope that they can make it happen.
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