CLEVELAND (CBS SPORTS) – The Cleveland Browns wasted no time in drawing headlines for their 2019 NFL offseason, signing free agent running back Kareem Hunt on Monday in a move that will raise more than a few eyebrows around the league, with Hunt facing a suspension because of his domestic violence incident that led to his release from the Chiefs last year.
In late November of 2018, video was released publicly of Hunt assaulting a woman in a hotel hallway back in February of 2018. The running back was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list (preventing him from playing) and then released by the Chiefs later that afternoon.
Hunt would speak out publicly and apologize for his actions, but has remained a free agent since he was released. The expectation is he would face upwards of an eight-game suspension from the NFL once he signed with an NFL team. The Browns certainly are aware of that possibility.
GM John Dorsey, who drafted Hunt in Kansas City, cited his long “relationship and interaction” with the running back as part of the reason why the team signed him.
“My relationship and interaction with Kareem since 2016 in college was an important part of this decision-making process but we then did extensive due diligence with many individuals, including clinical professionals, to have a better understanding of the person he is today and whether it was prudent to sign him,” Dorsey said. “There were two important factors: one is that Kareem took full responsibility for his egregious actions and showed true remorse and secondly, just as importantly, he is undergoing and is committed to necessary professional treatment and a plan that has been clearly laid out.”
Hunt promised a “healthier version” of himself after going through the process of rehabilitating himself and becoming a “better and healthier person.”
“First off, I would like to once again apologize for my actions last year. What I did was wrong and inexcusable. That is not the man I was raised to be, and I’ve learned a great deal from that experience and certainly should have been more truthful about it after the fact. I’m extremely grateful that John Dorsey, Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the Cleveland Browns organization are granting me the opportunity to earn their trust and represent their organization in the best way possible on and off the field. I am committed to following the necessary steps to learn and to be a better and healthier person from this situation. I also understand the expectations that the Browns have clearly laid out and that I have to earn my way back to the NFL. I’m a work in progress as a person, but I’m committed to taking advantage of the support systems that I have in place to become the best and healthier version of myself.”
According to NFL Media, Hunt has undergone treatment for both alcohol and anger issues. He was apparently hoping to sign with a team before Roger Goodell announced his suspension — Goodell told reporters at the Super Bowl he expected to have that investigation concluded “soon.”
In looking at the free agent running back class, it’s not hard to see Hunt as one of the top available options despite his status with the league. Were it not for his off-field issues, Hunt would be a more attractive option than even Le’Veon Bell. He’s young, dynamic and immensely talented — Hunt led the league in rushing during his rookie season with 1,327 yards and was having another highly productive year (824 rushing yards, 378 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns in just 11 games) in his second season before the off-field incident cost him his job.
Hunt is an interesting fit with the Browns, who are pretty deep at the running back position. They signed Carlos Hyde last offseason but traded him to open up more touches for Nick Chubb. The second-round rookie responded with an outstanding second half to the year, eventually finishing with 996 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns on the year.
Additionally, Cleveland has Duke Johnson, a versatile pass catcher who can produce multiple facets of the game. Perhaps the addition of Hunt, coming to Cleveland on what is reportedly a very cheap contract (around $1 million for a single year according to a report from NFL Media) could open up Johnson as a possible trade candidate if and when Hunt serves his suspension.
Or perhaps Dorsey just wants to ensure he has depth at the running back position for what is expected to be the best Browns season in recent memory. The expectations are very high for Baker Mayfield and Co. — adding Hunt to the mix, if he truly has moved past all his issues in Kansas City and rehabilitated himself, could be big boon for Cleveland’s rushing attack and general offensive explosiveness.