I’ll admit that I didn’t want the Cleveland Browns to trade Duke Johnson prior to Kareem Hunt returning from his eight-game suspension. Doing so would essentially give them no proven backup option or insurance policy behind Nick Chubb. With that said, a trade seemed inevitable, especially after Johnson hired super-agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him. After the Browns signed Hunt, it was clear that Duke wanted out. I rarely question a player’s injury, but the running back had missed the majority of training camp due to a hamstring injury. Are we sure that was the case? Or was Johnson just trying to hold some leverage, forcing the Browns’ hand, essentially?
Whether you wanted him to be traded or not, Cleveland traded Johnson to the Houston Texans on Thursday in exchange for a fourth-round pick, one that could become a third-rounder if Johnson is active for 10 games. Keep in mind, he has yet to miss a game during his first four seasons in the NFL. For the Browns sake, hopefully, that consistency continues this fall.1
While he may have been a solid playmaker during his first four years in the NFL, Johnson always seemed like the type of player that was overvalued by fans and somewhat undervalued by the team. He was good, but was he that good? I’ll let you be the judge of that, but it was clear that the Browns never really thought of him as a starting running back, rather a third-down guy that could also be used in the slot at times as well. Even after Cleveland signed him to a three-year, $15.61 million extension in 2018, his snaps and touches never really increased last season. It was something that the Dawg Pound noticed but the team never really cared about.
Then, when the Browns decided to sign Kareem Hunt this offseason, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Duke, both in terms of where he was on the depth chart and how many snaps and touches he would get in 2019 and beyond. While it was obvious, why Johnson wanted out, quarterback Baker Mayfield wasn’t happy with Duke’s demand. The vocal leader of the team, the gunslinger took it upon himself to speak up about the situation.
Mayfield said that Johnson’s request and slide down the depth chart was “self-inflicted” and that the running back “better do his job.” It wasn’t taken well by Duke’s former agent or even some of the veterans on the team. While the latter spoke to Mayfield about those comments, it was clear that he was no longer in Duke’s corner or had his back. Once he lost the franchise quarterback, it was only a matter of time until he was traded.
You can dislike professional players requesting trades all you want, but Duke is a playmaker and wants to be put in the best situation for him. It’s why he made the demand in the first place after realizing the inevitable. While it took some time, Cleveland finally got the deal that they were hoping for, one that they just couldn’t pass up. It’s why Duke is now in Houston.
Getting a mid-round pick for Johnson was what they were hoping for since the day they put him on the trading block in February, right before the running back demanded a trade. They didn’t get that prior to April’s NFL Draft. Now, just weeks before Week 1 of the season is set to begin, something seems to have changed. When the GM-less Texans offered a conditional fourth-round pick for Johnson, it was an opportunity they just couldn’t pass up. He no longer wanted to be in Cleveland, and now, the Browns have granted him his wish.
In terms of the trade, it’s a win-win for both sides. It essentially puts both the Browns and Duke in a better position to succeed in the future.
For the Browns, while general manager John Dorsey and head coach Freddie Kitchens continuously said all the right things regarding Johnson, including that he would be a key part of the offense and be a playmaker that the Browns both wanted and needed, but they knew that if the right offer came along, Cleveland would trade him away. That offer came Thursday and it was one that they just couldn’t pass up. While Duke is a playmaker and a guy that the Browns could have used, acquiring what could be a third-round pick in exchange for a running back is a solid deal, let alone a backup running back.
For Duke, he leaves a high-powered offense Browns offense and joins an offense that’s comprised of Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Lamar Miller, among others. Johnson will likely be the second-string running back and not only receive plenty of playing time, but plenty of opportunities to make plays as well.
After the Browns signed Hunt it was obvious that Johnson wasn’t going to be part of the Browns future after 2019. Cleveland got the right offer that they just couldn’t refuse, one that also gives Duke an opportunity to succeed as well. It’s why the trade was a win-win for both the Browns and Johnson.