Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Don’t deal Duke

So Duke Johnson Jr. wants to become an ex-Cleveland Brown. The sooner, the better.

The fifth-year running back took his first step toward that goal by not reporting for the Browns’ voluntary offseason program that began Monday in Berea.

Johnson’s representatives reportedly believe the running back is no longer in the club’s long-range plans and envision him dropping even deeper on the depth chart with the signing of free agent Kareem Hunt.

The versatile Johnson, whose talents have been misused ever since being drafted in 2015, played relatively sparingly last season with rookie Nick Chubb getting most of the reps after the Browns traded Carlos Hyde midway through the season.

When Hunt returns in the second half of the 2019 season after serving a suspension, the backfield all of a sudden becomes crowded with an embarrassment of riches should General Manager John Dorsey resist the temptation of trading Johnson.

It makes no sense for the Browns to deal Johnson elsewhere in the National Football League right now, especially after coach Freddie Kitchens is on record as stating he would find playing time for all three backs when Hunt returns.

“Duke Johnson will have a role on our football team,” he said at the NFL owners’ meeting last week in Phoenix. “All these guys . . . will have a role.”

Kitchens is going to have to convince Dorsey of that since he is fielding offers from other teams. Reportedly, three teams have expressed interest. The determining factor most likely will be how high a draft choice he can fetch for Johnson.

That market was established recently when the Chicago Bears shipped running back Jordan Howard, who has racked up a couple of 1,000-yard seasons, to the Philadelphia Eagles for a sixth-round pick that could become a fifth depending on how much he is used.

If Dorsey can’t get anything higher than a fifth-round pick – and that possibility resides somewhere in fantasyland – or a marginal player in return, he might as well hold on to Johnson.

In his first four seasons, Johnson touched the football 534 times and gained 3,456 yards as a runner/receiver. That’s 6.47 yards per touch. It can be argued he scored only 13 touchdowns. That’s because he was rarely used close to the goal line.

What also makes Johnson valuable, besides his versatility, is the cap-friendly contract he signed last summer, a three-year, $15.6 million deal.

As it stands right now, there is no reason to believe Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken can’t figure out how to make the Chubb-Hunt-Johnson troika work. It has been done before.

New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels worked his magic with rookie Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White last season as the Patriots won another Super Bowl.

The worst move Dorsey can make is trading Johnson just for the sake of trading him. If he cannot get fair value in return, he might as well stay put and let Kitchens and Monken work their magic.

There's an old expression in sports that is so true. It goes something like this: Sometimes, the best trades you make are the ones you don't make.


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