The Cleveland Browns must be more exacting than most of their NFL competitors in free agency, deciding who to target under significant salary cap constraints.
But before the franchise chooses which players to pursue, it needs to determine which players to cut loose.
Jacob Roach of USA Today’s Browns Wire compiled a list of five such players the team “should let walk” in free agency, and long-time running back Kareem Hunt was among them.
“There was a role for Kareem Hunt after Nick Chubb went down, and he played it well for the Browns,” Roach wrote on January 21. “The team struggled to run the ball consistently and Hunt was great in short yardage, but the team must rebuild the depth of the room and he no longer fits.”
Browns Tried to Move on From Kareem Hunt Last Offseason, but Nick Chubb’s Injury Changed Things
Hunt, who earned a Pro-Bowl nod after leading the NFL in rushing (1,327 yards) during his rookie season (2017) with the Kansas City Chiefs, has been a backup across the entirety of his five-year career in Cleveland.
Hunt backed up Chubb for four seasons, though he made noise about a new contract and/or a trade ahead of the 2022 campaign. The running back followed up that talk with an ineffectual, and exceedingly brief, holdout. Ultimately, Hunt played for Cleveland on his agreed upon deal in 2022, and the franchise subsequently chose to move on last spring.
Second-year running back Jerome Ford became Chubb’s backup, while Hunt languished on the free-agent market into the regular season. However, circumstances forced the Browns’ proverbial hand after Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cleveland subsequently brought Hunt back into the fold as Ford’s backup, a role in which he performed adequately. Hunt finished the year with 411 rushing yards on 135 carries (3 yards per attempt) and a career-high 9 rushing TDs as the primary goal line back, per Pro Football Reference. He also caught 15 passes for 84 yards.
Browns Former RB Coach Stump Mitchell Critical of Kareem Hunt After Firing
Across his career in Cleveland — which included 64 appearances — Hunt has amassed 2,285 rushing yards, 25 rushing TDs, 147 receptions, 1,047 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs.
However, he was also hurt on multiple occasions, which caused Hunt to miss 17 games across his first three seasons with the team. The running back played 15 games for the Browns in 2023, missing the initial two contests, as he was still a free agent and not a member of Cleveland’s roster at that time.
Beyond injury troubles, former Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell — who the team abruptly fired following its loss to the Houston Texans on Super Wild Card weekend, along with tight ends coach T.C. McCartney and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt — offered parting comments toward Hunt that were less than flattering.
“The thing that I couldn’t do while I was there is get the best out of Kareem. If they bring him back, I hope the next coach will be able to get the best out of Kareem,” Stump told Camryn Justice of News 5 Cleveland on January 22. “As a coach, all you want to do is to make a player better. But I wasn’t able to get him to not be the last guy in meetings, not to be out at practice on time. Kareem is a hell of a player, but this is a team game, and I tried to use every avenue that I could with Jacoby Brissett, also Deshaun [Watson], those guys talking to him. But timing in this business is everything.”
Kareem Hunt May Prove too Expensive, Unnecessary for Browns Offense in 2024
Ford had something of a breakout sophomore season with 813 rushing yards, 319 receiving yards and 9 total TDs. Chubb is also expected to return to the team healthy for the 2024 campaign, which is the last year on his current $36.6 million deal.
As such, Cleveland may have no need of Hunt’s services. It is possible the Browns could explore cutting Chubb to open up more than $11.8 million in salary cap space, though the front office could also choose to extend him if it feels he is crucial to its current window of playoff contention.
Hunt, for his part, has said he is open to returning to Cleveland, though money will certainly be an issue. Spotrac projects Hunt’s market value at approximately $9 million over a new two-year contract, though that amount is likely to price out a cash-strapped Browns team that is $20.5 million in the red on its balance sheet as of Saturday.
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