The Cleveland Browns signed Duke Johnson to a contract extension making him among the few players to receive a second contract with the post-expansion Browns. The versatile playmaker was one of the few positive aspects during the winless 2017 season for the Browns, but there were some who had wondered if the team might bypass an extension in light of the expenditures in assets for both Carlos Hyde in free agency and Nick Chubb in the 2018 NFL Draft.
There is also a question if the Browns are intelligently spending their assets. The modern NFL spends less money and high draft picks on running back than any starting position on offense or defense. The average team spends a meager $7.6 million of their cap with only five teams in the entire NFL dedicating more than $10 million towards their entirety of their runners on the roster. The Hyde contract made him a Top 10 paid back both in terms of total money and money per season. When the Johnson extension kicks in, he will be in that same group. Chubb is expected to earn less than $2 million per season, but the Browns spent an early Day 2 draft pick to acquire him.
Is it smart for the Browns to have put so many focused assets at a devalued position?
How much are the Browns really spending on running back?
With Duke Johnson’s extension paying him an average of five million per season,1 the Browns enter an odd space where they might be paying two Top 12 running backs by that measure with a third back who is also expected to demand carries.2
NFL accounting allows the feasibility of doing so to be less burdensome. The actual $7.6 million cap hit on the Browns for the 2018 season is league average for the position. The team will move into the Top 10 in spending for the position in 2019, but there is a team-option to cut Hyde next offseason for just a $2.3 million cap hit (pre-June 1) or only $1.1 million (post-June 1).
Is it OK that the Browns took Nick Chubb at No. 35?
WFNY’s Mike Hattery explained in his pre-draft analysis why the Browns would be foolish to spend a Top 5 pick on Saquon Barkley due to the high early returns with quick diminishing results expected out of running backs. The main thesis being that the Browns are not good enough now to take advantage of the peak production window for the position. Pick No. 35 is certainly better, but there is an extension to this argument for Chubb especially considering Hyde and Johnson are likely to remain ahead of him on the depth chart. The Browns need for Chubb to prove capable and durable into a second contract (as Johnson has) for their second-round gambit to fully pay off.
For 2018, there was an obvious opportunity cost of not addressing an alternative position at that selection in the draft, and there are many starting positions with questions to be answered once the team takes the field.. The Browns are relying on Chubb to be a cheap source or running production even as a potential early-career insurance policy to pay it off. Some draft analysts were quite high on Chubb’s ability, so it is quite possible he silences any critics with his play on the field.
Can the Browns afford to spend so much?
The Browns sit with $68 million in salary cap space, which is the most in the NFL by $16 million. They also are on the hook for $179 million in cash spent, which is the sixth least in the NFL. Those numbers will move a bit as rookie deals are signed, but the general principle here is the Browns cap position is in strong shape.
Is it a good thing to have Johnson on the team for another three seasons?
The expectation is Hyde and Chubb will share the traditional running back role with Johnson filling in as a
sometimes receiver, sometimes back multi-purpose playmaker. Despite adding receiver
Jarvis Landry to take over the slot role, there should be adequate touches for a player such as Johnson in the offense; assuming Todd Haley uses him better than Hue Jackson did.