Duke Johnson

AFC North Notes: Johnson, Tomlin, Bengals

The Browns refuse to grant Duke Johnson‘s request for a trade, but the running back is expected to show for OTAs, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But the veteran Browns reporter notes Johnson was not on the field for the first session of Cleveland’s Tuesday workouts. Johnson, understandably, is concerned about his role behind rising star Nick Chubb and new pickup Kareem Hunt, although Hunt will be suspended for the first half of the season. The veteran passing-down back has drawn interest from other teams this offseason, but John Dorsey has insisted that Johnson is in the Browns’ 2019 plans. Despite Dorsey having parted ways with most of the players from previous regimes, he has kept Johnson around. The Dorsey regime extended Johnson in June of 2018. Three years remain on his deal.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • It does not appear the Steelers are having second thoughts about Mike Tomlin, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac calling a Tomlin extension a “when, not if” situation. Two years remain on Tomlin’s deal, and the Steelers have made a habit of extending their coach when two years were left on previous contracts. Tomlin’s recent Steelers teams have either underachieved or were racked with turmoil, and Dulac adds it would not be unreasonable for Art Rooney II to table an extension for a year. However, Tomlin will likely receive a notable raise because of recent deals handed out to John Harbaugh ($9MM per year), Jon Gruden ($10MM AAV) and Pete Carroll (nearly $11MM annually), Dulac notes. Entering his 13th year with the Steelers, Tomlin is believed to earn just more than $7MM per year.
  • Darqueze Dennard will not participate in near-future Bengals workouts due to having undergone knee surgery earlier this offseason. The operation occurred between the time Dennard re-signed with the Bengals and their offseason program, and Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com notes the team was aware the cornerback needed this arthroscopic procedure done upon re-signing him. The current hope is the slot corner returns for Cincinnati’s minicamp next month.
  • Conversely, Tyler Eifert has been participating in the Bengals’ offseason activities thus far. The injury-prone (perhaps putting it mildly) tight end said he’s “doing pretty much everything” during Bengals workouts, Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. Eifert’s latest injury interruption came when he suffered an ugly broken ankle early last season. He underwent surgery in October. Despite the spree of setbacks, the former first-round pick stands to be (if healthy) the Bengals’ top receiving tight end.
  • Third-year Bengals defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow expects to be cleared to return by training camp, Dehner adds. The 2017 fourth-round pick tore his ACL in Week 3 of last season. Pro Football Focus offered a strong endorsement of Glasgow’s brief 2018 work sample, though it was cut short after just 92 snaps.
  • The Steelers waived offensive lineman R.J. Prince on Monday. He cleared waivers but has a Ravens workout scheduled for Wednesday, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. A 2018 UDFA, Prince spent time on Pittsburgh’s practice squad last season.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Browns Plan To Keep Duke Johnson

Browns running back Duke Johnson has requested a trade, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll get his way. In an interview with 92.3 The Fan (Twitter link) on Tuesday, Browns GM John Dorsey indicated that Johnson’s isn’t going anywhere. 

I keep telling you guys and you all don’t listen to me,” Dorsey said. “Duke Johnson is a viable member of this organization. He’s very talented. This organization has plans to use him.”

Dorsey’s comments jibe with head coach Freddie Kitchens‘ recent remarks, so all indications are that Johnson will be a member of the Browns in 2019.

Johnson, ostensibly, is upset about the arrival of former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who is slated to serve as the Browns’ top ball carrier after the conclusion of his four-game suspension. Meanwhile, the Browns will need a quality ball carrier for the opening month of the season and they still value Johnson’s soft hands out of the backfield. Since 2015, Johnson has averaged roughly 59 catches and 543 yards per season. Even last year when he saw only 40 carries behind Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde, he still managed 47 grabs for 429 yards.

The Jets, Texans, and Eagles all showed interest in Johnson after Cleveland acquired Hunt, but if Dorsey and Kitchens are to be believed, they’ll have to go shopping for backfield help elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Rumors: Browns, Duke, Lions, Snacks

Although Browns running back Duke Johnson has requested a trade, and Cleveland is believed to have shopped him, there’s seemingly no guaranteed he will be moved, as head coach Freddie Kitchens indicated to Tony Grossi of ESPN.com“Duke’s under contract. I’ve said this for a month now, I don’t know where all this trade talk started happening,” said Kitchens. “People just assumed we would trade him because we signed another good football player [Kareem Hunt]. I like good football players, and I like as many as I can get.

“At this point in time, him asking for a trade doesn’t matter to me. He’s a Cleveland Brown. Duke’s the type of the guy who’s going to show up and he’s going to do his job and he’s going do his job well. That’s all I can ask for as a coach. His demands, I’m not impacted by that one bit.”

Hunt is suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 season, so the Browns will need a back to play behind starter Nick Chubb. Johnson, 25, is under contract through 2021 thanks to the three-year, $15.6MM extension he signed last summer. While he handled only 40 carries a year ago, Johnson managed 47 catches and was one of the NFL’s most efficient receiving backs, per Football Outsiders.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Defensive tackle Damon Harrison isn’t participating in the Lions‘ offseason program, but his absence isn’t related to his request for a new contact, general manager Bob Quinn told Justin Rogers of the Detroit News. “The offseason program is voluntary,” Quinn said. “We have different guys, in different stages and different things in their lives, just like we have every year. So, Damon hasn’t been here the last couple of weeks, but we’ve communicated with him, talked to him multiple times and I’m sure we’ll see him here soon.” Harrison, whom the Lions acquired from the Giants last year in exchange for a fifth-round pick, has two years remaining on his current deal, with cap charges north of $7MM in each season.
  • The Ravens were attempting to sign Arizona defensive tackle P.J. Johnson to an undrafted free agent deal when he was selected by the Lions with the 229th overall pick, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “It was kind of funny,” Johnson said. “I tried to be as polite as possible,” Johnson said, “but get off fast: ‘Excuse me, but the Lions are calling. I’ve got to go.’ ” Baltimore did not have a selection after No. 197, so the club would have had to trade back up (using 2020 capital) in order to land Johnson.
  • Miami defensive tackle Gerald Willis surprisingly went undrafted before reportedly inking a UDFA deal with the Ravens, and his fall was likely caused by a few off-field issues, as Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic writes. Willis allegedly got into an altercation with Skyler Mornhinweg (son of ex-Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg) before being dismissed at Florida, while some former Miami coaches also bad-mouthed Willis, per Zrebiec. The current Hurricanes staff, however, praised Willis.

Browns GM John Dorsey On Key Players, Draft Plans

Browns GM John Dorsey addressed the media this morning and provided a number of noteworthy tidbits. Here are some highlights (compiled via the Twitter accounts of Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal and Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com):

On the status of RB Duke Johnson, who requested a trade a few weeks ago:

Dorsey said that Johnson’s trade request does not change how the club views him, and that he still envisions a key role for Johnson in the Browns’ offense. Johnson has not been with the team since the offseason workout program began on April 1, but there has been communication between the team and Johnson’s agent. There is still no word on whether Johnson will report for mandatory minicamp in June, but it sounds as though Dorsey is not particularly keen to honor Johnson’s trade request at this time (which means there may not be a particularly large market for his services).

On trading into the first round:

Dorsey did not rule out the possibility of getting his club back into the first round of this year’s draft, and he acknowledged the benefit of getting the potential fifth-year option for a top collegiate prospect. He said he has talked to teams picking in the bottom of the first round about a potential trade, but he added that he always does that as a part of his due diligence. The Browns’ first draft choice this year is the No. 49 overall selection, so they would need to give up a lot to jump at least 17 spots into the first round.

On Odell Beckham Jr.:

Dorsey said OBJ has not reported to the team for voluntary workouts, but he does not sound concerned. He said it would be nice to have the star receiver present, but he added that Beckham is a professional who understands what he needs to do to get ready for the season.

On Kareem Hunt:

Dorsey said that Hunt has “worked his fanny off” both with the team and in the community, and he is impressed with the progress Hunt has made.

On Morgan Burnett:

Dorsey sees the newly-acquired defender as the Browns’ starting strong safety.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Duke Johnson Requests Trade From Browns

It appears the Browns and Duke Johnson will part ways in the near future. Already believed to be on the trade block, Duke Johnson has submitted a request to be moved, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports.

Since the Browns signed Kareem Hunt, the Jets, Texans and Eagles have been interested in Johnson, Cabot adds. Johnson did not show for the first day of the Browns’ offseason program.

When the Browns brought in Hunt, John Dorsey initially said Johnson was not yet a candidate to be moved. Hunt since incurred an eight-game suspension, making backfield depth paramount. But the Browns have been ruthless in moving on from talent acquired under previous regimes. Kevin Zeitler, Jabrill Peppers, Derrick Kindred and Emmanuel Ogbah have been the latest to go. Johnson, a third-round pick during the Ray Farmer regime, has been Cleveland’s passing-down back for four seasons.

Dorsey said recently he has not spoken to Johnson, but Cabot makes it clear the running back’s representatives have spoken to other Browns execs with the intention of being traded.

First-year HC Freddie Kitchens said Johnson would have a role alongside Nick Chubb, even after Hunt returns. But as Cabot points out, Odell Beckham Jr.’s arrival will likely push Jarvis Landry inside more often, decreasing the opportunities for Johnson to work in the slot. His lack of touches last season was already a point of contention, per Cabot.

I don’t know why it’s assumed that we’re going to trade Duke Johnson,” Kitchens said. “I don’t know why we would ever want to, like, just voluntarily give up a good football player. Duke Johnson is a good football player. Duke Johnson will have a role on our football team. All these guys that are here will have a role. I don’t know when it just became a necessity to trade Duke Johnson because we signed Kareem Hunt.”

The 25-year-old back is signed to a team-friendly three-year, $15.6MM contract. He is signed through 2021. Despite playing in 16 games, Johnson saw his scrimmage-yards total plummet from 1,041 in 2017 to 630 last season. His touches dropped from 156 in 2017 to 87 last year. The former Miami Hurricane still leads all running backs in receiving yardage (2,170) since entering the league (h/t ESPN’s Field Yates, on Twitter).

In signing Le’Veon Bell, the Jets already paid a premium for a pass-catching back. The Eagles just traded for Jordan Howard, but he has not been a prolific receiver. And Darren Sproles may or may not be retiring. The Texans just lost Alfred Blue to the Jaguars and were without D’Onta Foreman for much of last season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Dennard, Browns, Steelers

Still unsigned, Darqueze Dennard remains an option for the Bengals. But the franchise looks to have given the cornerback a price point. The Bengals have not closed the door on a reunion with the sixth-year cornerback, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer, but they have since signed B.W. Webb and retained some of their own free agents. The most recent negotiations between Dennard and the Bengals revealed a disconnect, with the team viewing him as strictly a slot cornerback — and one they may not consider paying at the top-market slot price Justin Coleman just reset with the Lions. Dennard’s camp came in with an offer north of what Coleman just signed, proposing a deal north of $10MM per year with the Bengals, Dehner reports, adding the corner’s representation never came back to the table with the Bengals. The team was willing to keep Dennard at around $8.5MM AAV, but that was before reaching a deal with Webb. The new Bengal corner played for first-year DC Lou Anarumo with the Giants.

Dennard was scheduled to visit the Chiefs this weekend. Shifting first to a higher-profile AFC North situation, here is the latest out of this division:

  • John Dorsey called Dave Gettleman on Monday to ask if Odell Beckham Jr. was indeed available. The Giants’ GM had twice said in 2019 he did not extend the wideout to trade him, but Gettleman told Dorsey he was, in fact, willing to move Beckham, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes. Dorsey had several Beckham trades planned, but Cabot adds the talks never included Emmanuel Ogbah or Duke Johnson. Both of those pre-Dorsey Browns investments are now on the trade block.
  • As for the player the Giants did obtain for Beckham, Jabrill Peppers profiled as one the Browns did not want to let go. Despite being a Sashi Brown-era draft choice, Dorsey wanted to keep the improving safety, per Cabot. But Cleveland’s second-year GM was not going to let Peppers stand in the way of acquiring Beckham. Gettleman was “adamant” about Peppers’ inclusion in this trade because of the Giants’ recent decision to let Landon Collins walk in free agency, Cabot adds. The Giants are planning a versatile role for the third-year safety. Peppers can be under Giants control through 2021 via the fifth-year option.
  • The Steelers‘ acquisition of Mark Barron will likely not preclude them from using another early-round pick on a linebacker, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac (on Twitter). Pittsburgh did not elect to devote significant resources to replacing Ryan Shazier last year but has used four first-round picks on linebackers since 2013 — Jarvis Jones, Shazier, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. Shazier’s unfortunate circumstances may again prompt the Steelers to use a first-round choice on an off-ball ‘backer.
  • Eli Rogers‘ latest Steelers contract is for two years, not one, the team announced. The auxiliary receiver may have a bigger role in Pittsburgh’s 2019 offense, considering Antonio Brown is out of the picture and Rogers is entering an offseason healthy. He tore an ACL in the Steelers’ 2017 divisional-round game and only played in three games last season.

Browns RB Duke Johnson On Trade Block

The Browns are shopping running back Duke Johnson, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Cleveland extended Johnson just last year, but after Nick Chubb performed admirably in his rookie campaign, and after the club acquired the troubled but uber-talented Kareem Hunt in February, it seems that Johnson may be on the outs.

We heard earlier this month that three teams had inquired on Johnson’s availability, and although the Browns publicly said they were committed to the Miami product — and that they were going to keep him at running back rather than move him to wideout to take advantage of his receiving talents — it appears they are willing to deal him for the right price. Speculatively, that could mean that the team is optimistic that Hunt will be eligible to play sooner rather than later.

Although Johnson is coming off something of a down year, it is clear that he can be very dangerous when utilized correctly. He has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his four-year career (including a career-high 5.0 yards per tote in 2018), and he is averaging nearly 60 catches per season.

But the splashy acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. means that Jarvis Landry will be spending even more time in the slot, further reducing Johnson’s role as a pass-catcher. The Browns are in no hurry to move Johnson, as he still has value even in a stacked offense, and he is set to carry a fairly modest cap number of $3.05MM. But if they get an offer they like, they are prepared to pull the trigger.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Notes: Collins, Johnson, Perriman

Although the Browns are not linked to a first-round quarterback for the first time in ages, this will be a pivotal offseason for a rising team. Here is the latest from Cleveland, courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot:

  • It’s a near-certainty Jamie Collins will not play on an $11.75MM cap number this season. The Browns are likely going to restructure that deal or make a move to trade or release the outside linebacker, Cabot notes. John Dorsey met with Collins’ agent over the weekend, and the second-year GM characterized the highly paid ‘backer’s 2018 season as inconsistent. Collins has been the NFL’s highest-paid off-ball linebacker for nearly two years, though his deal contains no more guarantees. It would save the Browns $9.25MM by cutting Collins. Cleveland has Christian Kirksey signed long-term and has received quality play from Joe Schobert, with newcomer Genard Avery showing promise as a rookie.
  • The Kareem Hunt addition has prompted other teams to inquire about Duke Johnson‘s availability, Cabot reports. Three teams are interested in Johnson, she adds, despite the Browns’ pass-catching back coming off a down year. Johnson signed an extension in 2018, but the Browns now have Hunt in the fold to play alongside Nick Chubb. Dorsey said last month Johnson’s roster spot is not in jeopardy “yet” and confirmed he remains committed to the receiving back, as a running back, going forward. Hunt’s suspension timetable remains uncertain, but it is likely he will draw a ban longer than six games, thus keeping the need for Johnson present.
  • Dorsey has been in contact with Breshad Perriman and agent Drew Rosenhaus about a possible re-up, but Cabot adds the sides are not close on terms. Dorsey said he would “love” to have the former first-round pick, who ran a 4.25-second 40-yard dash at the 2015 Combine, back due to his speed-size combination. A constant injury risk in Baltimore before being waived last year, Perriman caught just 16 passes with Cleveland. However, he posted a 21.3-yard average as an intriguing deep threat.
  • The Browns will give Greg Robinson another chance to earn their starting left tackle job, agreeing to a second contract with the former No. 2 overall pick.

AFC North Notes: Brown, Ravens, Johnson

The Steelers‘ plan remains to trade Antonio Brown. But Kevin Colbert reiterated they will not pull the trigger if they do not believe the compensation is appropriate.

We will only make a trade if it benefits the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Colbert said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com. “He knows that. His representation knows that. That’s been clearly explained, and we’re willing to take a look. If there’s something that can be done to benefit both sides, great. If not, then we’ll deal with that when we get to it.”

Pittsburgh still wants to trade Brown to the NFC, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets the organization is prioritizing compensation over a preferred destination. Colbert said an intra-division trade is not ideal but did not put the Bengals, Browns or Ravens as non-starter suitors, saying “we haven’t eliminated anybody” from the trade picture. Colbert added more teams have reached out, which makes sense with all 32 teams in Indianapolis for the Combine. The Steelers would seemingly prefer to deal Brown before March 17, when his $2.5MM bonus is due, but Colbert said (via Pro Football Talk, on Twitter) the team is open to paying him the bonus and trading him later.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • New Ravens GM Eric DeCosta has said the team wants C.J. Mosley back, and a report indicated they also want to re-sign Terrell Suggs for a 17th season. DeCosta on Wednesday said he expects Brandon Carr to stay put. However, the new front office boss was not as certain on Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle joining Carr in the 2019 Baltimore secondary, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic tweets. Carr, who will be 33 in May, is due $7MM. Weddle, 34, has one season left on his four-year deal. It would save the Ravens $7.5MM by cutting him. After indicating he would want to retire if the Ravens didn’t want him back, Weddle recently changed his tune. Smith is just 30, and a release would cost the Ravens more than $6MM. But they could save $9MM-plus by making him a cap casualty. Baltimore currently holds barely $20MM in cap space.
  • With Kareem Hunt now in the fold, the Browns‘ backfield is crowded. Nick Chubb will likely be the Cleveland starter for much of this season, with Hunt in line for a suspension that could comprise more than half of the 2019 season. Duke Johnson remains, too, and although he has done his best work in the passing game, Freddie Kitchens said (via cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, on Twitter) the team is not planning to move its passing-down back to wide receiver.
  • The Bengals refuted a report that they are trying to deal 2017 first-rounder John Ross.

Latest On Browns, Kareem Hunt

The Browns’ decision to sign Kareem Hunt has obviously stirred up some controversy. Hunt is back on the commissioner’s exempt list and is being investigated for three off-field incidents from 2018.

John Dorsey said, per ESPNCleveland’s Tony Grossi (Twitter link), the length of Hunt’s suspension may be known within a couple of weeks. Hunt is expected to receive at least a six-game suspension, and given that two other alleged incidents accompany the video of the Cleveland-area native kicking a woman, the 23-year-old running back may be banned longer than that.

Once the suspension is assessed, Hunt will be able to attend Browns offseason activities and then training camp. Dorsey expects the 2017 rushing champion to be present in April when the Browns begin their offseason program.

Although Dorsey said the Browns conducted a thorough investigation, the second-year Cleveland GM admitted this did not include speaking with the victim. He added an effort was not made to do so. Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the latter a member of the NFL’s conduct committee, signed off on the move.

I talked to a lot of people (but) I didn’t get a chance to talk to that victim,” Dorsey said, via Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. “That’s probably part of her privacy stuff.”

Dorsey spoke with Hunt several times before making this decision (Twitter link via Grossi). The former Chiefs GM, who took a chance on Tyreek Hill after a domestic violence incident, said he realizes the backlash that will come the Browns’ way and indicated this is Hunt’s last chance.

This signing will place Hunt back in his hometown. The former third-round Dorsey draft choice out of Toledo carried a reputation as a respectful, hard-working person in the Chiefs’ building but also one who dealt with alcohol and anger issues outside of it, per Albert Breer of SI.com. Although Dorsey did not confirm Hunt has been attending treatment for these issues, both Cabot and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport report he has been through counseling.

If Hunt is on the Browns’ active roster for at least six games, he will become a restricted free agent at season’s end. If a suspension shelves him for more than 10 games, Hunt will be an exclusive-rights free agent in 2020.

The Browns now have Hunt, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson on their roster. Both Johnson and Chubb are signed through 2021, the former via three-year, $15.6MM extension agreed to in 2018. Dorsey said Johnson’s roster spot is not yet in danger.

I don’t think it makes him expendable yet,’’ he said. “You have to research your options and see moving forward what’s best for the organization. Duke is a fine football player.”

Cleveland’s passing-downs back, a third-round pick during the Ray Farmer regime, had his worst year as a pro in 2018. He totaled just 630 yards from scrimmage, doing so after surpassing 1,000 in 2017. Dorsey has jettisoned many players brought to Cleveland during past regimes since taking over 14 months ago.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.