Marla Ridenour: Kareem Hunt’s extension can’t affect Browns’ top priority —keeping Nick Chubb
Akron Beacon Journal (OH)
It's hard not to love Kareem Hunt's love for the game.
The Browns' 25-year-old running back has proven his versatility, his durability and his humility. He's willing to sacrifice his body as a blocker and to keep drives alive as a receiver when minimal gains are needed.
He's the epitome of an all-purpose back.
Giving Hunt a two-year, $13.25 million contract extension that included $8.5 million guaranteed was a wise business move by the Browns. With the possibility that Hunt will flourish this season in new coach Kevin Stefanski's offense, the Browns got ahead of the market with salaries rising for running backs in a recent surge of extensions.
But Hunt, the 2017 NFL rushing leader, also provides insurance if the Browns decide they can't afford Nick Chubb, under contract through the 2021 season. And that adds an element of fear into Tuesday's news.
Chubb is the Browns' best player and keeping him should be their top priority. Chubb embodies the "smart, tough, accountable" mold Stefanski says the Browns covet; Hunt checks only one of those three boxes.
Chubb was the one former General Manager John Dorsey singled out when asked who was the player every Brown should emulate.
"When I talk about competitiveness, good football players, good in the locker room, everything that exemplifies what this organization is trying to achieve, I think it's Nick Chubb," Dorsey told the Beacon Journal'sNate Ulrich before the 2019 season opener.
Dorsey didn't say Baker Mayfield. He didn't say defensive cornerstone Myles Garrett. Dorsey wasn't right about everything, but he was right about that.
Stefanski already sees it, too.
"I love now Nick Chubb works," Stefanski said Thursday. "You see him on the grass, you see him in the classroom, he's all ball all the time. He's a good person, he's a solid citizen, he's a great teammate. Pleased with what Nick means to this team."
Cleveland fans are scarred by the Indians' development of stars who were traded when they become too expensive to keep. Dawg Pound dwellers see what has happened over the past few months in the NFL.
Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals signed a four-year, $48 million extension a week ago. Derrick Henry, the 2019 rushing leader who totaled 46 more yards than Chubb, got four years and $50 million tacked on by the Tennessee Titans in mid-July. The Saints' Alvin Kamara appears to be next in line.
Barring injury, Chubb will have rushed for over 5,000 yards by the time his contract expires. Will the analytics-driven front office be willing to fork over more than $50 million to a player who has taken that many hits? By then it could be $60 million.
Will the numbers of chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta support a blockbuster deal for Chubb, or will the Browns let him walk in 2022 free agency? Would the Browns rather have draft picks than Chubb?
Let's hope not, no matter the price.
Contrast Chubb with Hunt, who always carries a tinge of risk.
The Browns wouldn't have gotten him for the league minimum if TMZ.com hadn't released a video of Hunt kicking a woman in a downtown Cleveland apartment hotel in February, 2018, forcing the Kansas City Chiefs to cut him. That incident at the Metropolitan at the 9, coupled with a physical altercation with a man in Put-in-Bay in June, 2018, led to Hunt's eight-game league suspension to start the 2019 season for violation of its personal conduct policy.
It's been only 7½ months since Hunt was pulled over on Jan. 21 for speeding on Interstate 90. A small amount of marijuana was found in a backpack in the backseat and he told a Rocky River police officer that he would fail an NFL drug test.
"I mean, yes, sir. It was offseason. Sorry; I was having a good time," Hunt told the officer, as seen on dash cam video.
There have been too many incidents with the Willoughby native to believe that the Browns front office doesn't worry what he's doing when the clock strikes midnight on the final day of the season.
In the press release announcing Hunt's signing, new General Manager Andrew Berry noted "the redemptive strides" Hunt has taken, but said Hunt's opportunity with the Browns will require him to maintain "his current personal trajectory."
The front office may see signs of Hunt's growing maturity that is not evident to those on the outside. The Browns might believe the confidence that comes with the extension will give Hunt the determination to make more strides. Perhaps the investment will bring double or triple its worth in production and victories.
An $8.5 million guarantee is relatively low by league standards. But as Hunt wavers down his path to redemption, it's still a leap of faith.
It's also $8.5 million that could have gone to Chubb, the face and heart of the Browns' franchise.