BEREA, Ohio — Over the past two days, Browns team drills have missed Kareem Hunt’s thunderous runs and catches from the backfield before he shakes off potential tackle attempts.
That’s because Hunt has refrained from everything but individual drills the past two practices while in a contract dispute, a league source confirmed to cleveland.com.
Josina Andersen of CBS Sports was the first to report on Hunt’s practice retention strategy.
Hunt’s agent, Dan Saffron, attended Browns training camp this week to support his client and, presumably, to speak with Browns management.
The Browns, who will fine Hunt for skipping team drills, had planned to let him play all season and then review his expiring contract. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, Hunt could ask to be traded or the Browns could release him.
Heading into the final year of a two-year extension that pays him up to $6.25 million a year, Hunt told the Browns in the spring that he wanted the extra time and that he wants to finish his career with his hometown teamas first reported by cleveland.com.
He acknowledged at the time that he didn’t know if the team felt the same way.
“We’ll see what they want to do with me,” he said at the time. “I don’t know what to think right now.”
The problem for Hunt, who turned 27 on Saturday, is that he has little to no clout. The Browns love his game, but they have a surplus of running backs behind starter Nick Chubb, including D’Ernest Johnson, fifth-round pick Jerome Ford and 2021 sixth-round pick Demetric Felton.
The Browns planned to use Hunt and Chubb together on occasion in the backfield this season, but they have other versatile backs, like Felton, who can handle some of Hunt’s duties, including catching the ball from the backfield.
Hunt’s contract also lends itself to the Browns being able to part ways with him if they can’t resolve the issue. He has a base salary of $1.35 billion and received a roster bonus of $1.5 million. His contract balance comes in the form of $200,000 for every game he is active, up to $3.4 million. Because none of those game bonuses are guaranteed, Brown wouldn’t be out long if they let him go.
But they would rather have him here helping them win this season.
Other than that, they would rather get something in return if the two sides reach an impasse, which seems likely at the moment. With his incentive-laden contract, Hunt could be attractive to a team that needs a running back now or one that has an injury between now and the trade deadline.
It would mess up his goal of trying to win a Super Bowl for his hometown team.
“I was born and raised here,” the Willoughby native told cleveland.com. “I would love to finish my career here and continue playing with Chubb longer and with the great guys on this great team.”
The Browns were reluctant to extend Hunt’s contract again before the season because he missed nine games with injuries and COVID-19 last season. That included five with a calf injury, two after testing positive for COVID-19 and two with an ankle injury. The lost time resulted in just 78 carries for 386 yards and five TDs. He also caught 22 passes for 174 yards.
The idea was to see if he could stay healthy through the 2022 season and be as productive as the Browns hope he can be, especially if Deshaun Watson plays at least part of the season. So, he would make it hard for the Browns to walk him, or possibly he would become the No. 1 running back for another team.
“I love soccer,” he said in June. “If I could be number 1 somewhere, I mean, I would love to play football. So whoever takes me and is number 1, I’ll go and do my best, but now I’m home. I love being in Cleveland. I love being part of this team. Whatever it is, I’m ready for it.”
He then said that it was not on his radar to stay away from the camp and that he would concentrate on the task at hand.
“I’m ready for anything, man,” he said. “I am excited to be able to play football. I’m lovin ‘it.”
A his youth soccer camp last month at Willoughby South High School, Hunt reiterated, “I hope I get paid. So you know, whatever they decide, they know I’m going to go out there and give it my all and do everything I can to help the team win.”
But he also hinted that the Browns would have to step up for him to want to stay.
“If they are correct and they make me feel good, then I will be willing to be here,” he said. “If not, we’ll see where it goes after that. I really do not know”.
Chubb said on the first day of training camp that he wants the Browns to keep the two together.
“I love playing with Kareem, he’s a great friend of mine,” he said. “Also a great player. He does great things for this team. I would love to continue playing with him.”
Originally a third-round pick by the Chiefs out of Toledo in 2017, Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards as a rookie. He got off to another great start in 2018, but the Chiefs released him midway through the season after video surfaced of his altercation with a woman. He spent the rest of that year out of football, until former Browns general manager John Dorsey signed him in February 2019. Hunt was suspended the first eight games of the 2019 season for that altercation and another, but he returned for the second half of the season. he season to rush 43 times for 179 yards.
In 2020, he signed a two-year extension worth $13.25 million with club protection via game bonuses. Hunt responded with 841 yards on 198 carries and six TDs, as well as 38 receptions for 304 yards and 5 TDs. In the playoffs, he played “mad” in Pittsburgh in the wild card round to get a chance with the Chiefs the following week.
He rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns in the Browns’ 48-37 win over the Steelers, dragging multiple defenders across the goal line. He added another 32 yards and a TD against the Chiefs in a 22-17 loss in the Divisional Round.
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