Duke Johnson

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.

Browns Rumors: Gordon, Corbett, Robinson

Josh Gordon remains away from the Browns as they enter the second week of training camp, but the team remains confident its oft-unavailable wideout will show up in Berea, Ohio, at some point during camp. John Dorsey reaffirmed during a radio interview Friday that the 27-year-old pass-catcher will be at camp. But no timetable has been announced. Browns camp runs until August 15, though it’s unclear if Dorsey meant Gordon will return by camp’s conclusion or merely before the regular season begins.

I told you he’d be here, and he will be here,” the Cleveland GM said during an interview with 92.3 The Fan (via the Lorain Morning Journal). “… I haven’t talked to Josh Gordon; I’m going to respect his privacy. I admire what he’s doing here because he’s taking care of the long-term interest of his person.”

Gordon is believed to be at a rehab center in Gainesville, Fla., and his return status may not be entirely up to him. Roger Goodell could well have a say, complicating matters for a player who’s endured one of the more complicated careers in modern NFL history.

Here’s the latest out of Cleveland:

  • The Browns moving to their “Plan Z” so fast — sliding Joel Bitonio to left tackle — will prompt them to move second-round pick Austin Corbett into Bitonio’s old spot. Corbett is now working as the team’s starting left guard, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. The left side of the Browns’ line is now comprised of former Nevada starting tackles, with Corbett taking over as the Wolf Pack’s left tackle for Bitonio in 2014 after he was a Cleveland draft choice. Corbett did not see time at guard in college but was considered a prospect who could make the transition inside in the pros.
  • Given the first chance to succeed Joe Thomas, Shon Coleman was not progressing like the Browns hoped, per Cabot. Cleveland’s right tackle starter last season, Coleman seems likely to now become a swing backup. But Hue Jackson suggested Greg Robinson, who’s been out for most of camp due to a concussion, may get a chance to potentially move Bitonio back to guard. Though, this move doesn’t look to be an experiment. “It’s full speed ahead with Joel,” Jackson said. “But Greg will factor into that. He hasn’t practiced enough. I don’t know enough about him yet to say if he can or he can’t.”
  • Duke Johnson would prefer to be a full-time slot receiver, rather than serving as a running back/receiver, per Dan Labbe of cleveland.com. With Jarvis Landry around, it doesn’t seem like the recently extended passing-down running back’s role will be changing anytime soon. Johnson took 82 handoffs last season but caught a career-high 74 passes.

Extra Points: Browns, Johnson, Watson, Watt

Duke Johnson Jr. is staying in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. The running back signed a three-year extension with the organization today that will tack an additional $15.6MM ($7.7MM guaranteed) to his contract. While the 24-year-old is set to be with the organization until at least 2021, Johnson was more focused on his team’s potential in 2018.

“I’m excited,” Johnson told ClevelandBrowns.com. “It’s fun to see how this team is shaping out and I want to be a part of it. You can see it with the guys they brought in on offense like Tyrod (Taylor) and (Jarvis) Landry plus the guys we already had. I think bringing in coach (Todd) Haley adds another dimension to our offense and it gives coach (Hue) Jackson the chance to be the head coach. John Dorsey has been bringing in guys that can play, that can ball, and that gives us a chance. Now it’s about going out and doing it now.”

General manager John Dorsey also discussed the running back’s new deal.

“Duke Johnson is a good football player,” Dorsey said. “His hard work and commitment to the Browns organization is appreciated and we are excited to extend his contract and keep him in a Browns uniform for years to come. Duke is an excellent representative our organization. He leads by example and we look forward to him playing an important role with the Cleveland Browns moving forward.”

Let’s take a look at some other notes from around the NFL…

  • The Texans are looking like they’re going to head into the 2018 campaign healthy. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that quarterback Deshaun Watson (ACL) and defensive end J.J. Watt (tibial plateau fracture) aren’t expected to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The duo combined for only 12 games last season.
  • NFL executive vice president of business operations Eric Grubman will be stepping down from his role (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). The executive, who has been with the NFL for 14 years, played a major part in the Rams’ move to Los Angeles.“He has handled some of the most challenging and important issues to the NFL,” said Roger Goodell. While the commissioner tried to convince Grubman to stick around, the executive will join former COO Tod Leiwicke and former executive vice president of communications Joe Lockhart among those who have left high-ranking roles.
  • We learned earlier today that Broncos edge rusher Shane Ray is set to undergo wrist surgery, which will keep him out of action for three months.

Browns, Duke Johnson Agree To Extension

The Browns and running back Duke Johnson have agreed to terms on a long-term contract extension, sources tell Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). It’s a three-year addition worth $15.6MM, including $7.7MM guaranteed. 

With nearly $70MM in cap space, it wasn’t difficult for the Browns to make room for Johnson’s deal. The two sides have been in talks throughout the offseason and a pact came together well in advance of the team’s mandatory minicamp.

If the deal were to start this year, Johnson would be ninth amongst all NFL running backs in terms of annual average value. When the pact kicks in next year, Johnson will probably be just outside of the top ten at his position.

Johnson, 25 in November, has averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his three NFL seasons while playing largely in a backup capacity. In 2017, the Browns often utilized him as a pass-catcher and the results were tremendous. Johnson set new career highs in catches (74) and receiving yards (693) and was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for Cleveland. This year, he’ll serve as the Browns No. 2 ball carrier behind free agent addition Carlos Hyde.

Johnson was initially set to enter the final year of his rookie deal with a modest $2.084MM cap number. He has now received a significant pay bump.

In addition to Hyde and Johnson, the Browns further bolstered the running back group by drafting former Georgia standout Nick Chubb in the second round of last month’s draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bears, Browns, Ragnow

Fans of another Midwestern team will recognize much of what the 2018 Bears‘ offense looks like. Matt Nagy said, via Dan Pompei of The Athletic (subscription required) the Bears’ offense will be 70-80 percent the same as what the Chiefs run under Andy Reid.

It will be different in some regards, which is only fair to our coaches on offense and the ideas they have,” Nagy said. “But the identity is going to be the same. It will feel very similar to Kansas City’s. We’re in the lab now. That’s the fun part. All the coaches are giving their ideas and thoughts. Coach [Reid] always said he had 51 percent of the say. So ultimately, he had final say. Now I have that. There are plays I liked that Coach [Reid] didn’t like, so now those plays are in.

Reid and Nagy each had roles as the Chiefs’ primary play-caller during the pair’s two years working in an HC-OC relationship, with Nagy’s shift toward play-calling responsibilities coinciding with Kansas City’s late-season charge toward a second straight AFC West title. He’ll attempt to replicate that with the Bears.

With OTAs continuing for some and minicamps starting elsewhere this week, here’s the latest from the North divisions.

  • The Browns believe Mychal Kendricks can play all three linebacker positions, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. Lining up the ex-Eagles starter — who is set to sign with the Browns on Monday — in the middle would give him the best chance of starting, with Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey on the outside. However, Joe Schobert started all 16 Browns games as the middle linebacker and was the top-rated (per Pro Football Focus) Browns ‘backer last season. Kendricks was unhappy with his role with the Eagles, but in Cleveland, the Browns’ recent futility notwithstanding, he’s going to be playing with a deeper group of linebackers. A three-down role won’t be guaranteed. Of course, the previous Browns regime re-signed Collins and extended Kirksey, which could complicate matters a bit as John Dorsey steps into his first full season with the franchise.
  • Also in Cleveland, Browns coaches are high on Duke Johnson, despite the team signing Carlos Hyde and drafting Nick Chubb, and Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com envisions an extension coming to fruition this offseason. The Browns have nearly $70MM in cap space, and Johnson would seemingly fit alongside either Hyde or Chubb as a passing-down back. The sides have been discussing a re-up for a bit now.
  • Despite being open to Joel Bitonio as Joe Thomas‘ replacement, the Browns kept him at left guard at OTAs this week, per Terry Pluto of cleveland.com. Bitonio would prefer to stay at guard, and the Browns — who drafted Austin Corbett, Bitonio’s left tackle successor at Nevada — in Round 2. Corbett is currently working behind Shon Coleman at left tackle.
  • On the subject of rookie offensive linemen’s roles, the Lions have begun first-round pick Frank Ragnow‘s tenure at guard, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com notes, adding he took some first-team reps at that spot. This is interesting considering Graham Glasgow played well at guard last season. The Lions have T.J. Lang entrenched at the other guard slot and signed ex-Jets center Wesley Johnson. However, Detroit’s discussed the notion of moving Glasgow to center. Ragnow played center for all but one game as an upperclassman but started throughout his sophomore season at guard for Arkansas.
  • Tyler Matakevich underwent surgery to repair three areas — his rotator cuff, labrum and a biceps muscle — repaired shortly after the Steelers‘ divisional-round loss to the Jaguars. And the Steelers subsequently signed Jon Bostic, seemingly to replace Ryan Shazier this season. However, Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes Matakevich was the first-string inside linebacker alongside Vince Williams throughout OTAs this week. While this situation is likely far from being settled, the Steelers holding a competition between a 2016 seventh-round pick and a sixth-year veteran who started 14 games last season is interesting.

Browns, Duke Johnson Discussing Extension

Duke Johnson says that he and the Browns are in discussions about a contract extension (Twitter link via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com). The running back also says he is “very optimistic” the two sides will come to an agreement. 

Johnson, 25 in November, has averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his three NFL seasons while playing largely in a backup capacity. In 2017, the Browns often utilized him as a pass-catcher and the results were tremendous. Johnson set new career highs in catches (74) and receiving yards (693) and was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for Cleveland. This year, he’ll serve as the Browns No. 2 ball carrier behind free agent addition Carlos Hyde.

Johnson is set to enter the final year of his rookie deal which will carry a modest $2.084MM cap number. Because he was a third-round pick and not a first-round selection, the Browns do not have the option of extending his deal via the fifth-year option. The franchise tag is technically still in play, but the Browns want to keep that possibility open for other players who are scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season.

In addition to Hyde and Johnson, the Browns further bolstered the running back group by drafting former Georgia standout Nick Chubb in the second round of last month’s draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.