Duke Johnson’s reps have asked the Browns to trade him, source says
Updated 6:26 PM; Today 5:30 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Duke Johnson’s reps have asked the Browns to trade him, a league source told cleveland.com.
The Jets, Texans and Eagles have all been interested in Johnson ever since the Browns signed running back Kareem Hunt in February, a league source said. Other teams have inquired as well.
In what appears to be a statement about not wanting to be here, Johnson was a no-show for the Browns’ voluntary offseason program Monday, coach Freddie Kitchens said.
Kitchens said he didn’t know if it was in response to the Browns signing Hunt and all the trade rumors swirling around Johnson.
"It’s what he chose to do,'' said Kitchens. "It’s all voluntary.''
Johnson joined Emmanuel Ogbah as two veteran players who chose not to attend, and Ogbah was subsequently traded to the Chiefs for safety 2016 fourth-round safety Eric Murray on Monday afternoon.
Browns GM John Dorsey, asked at the NFL Annual meetings last week if Johnson has asked to be traded, said he hasn’t talked to him. But his reps have spoken to others in the building and made it clear he wants to be dealt, the source said.
Johnson has also removed most of his Browns’ photos from social media, something he also did last year before the Browns signed him to an extension.
Johnson’s name came up in trade talks at the start of the league year, but no one made the Browns an offer they couldn’t refuse. One source said they’re holding out for a high pick for the 2015 third-rounder out of Miami.
Also at the NFL annual meeting last week, Kitchens seemed irked by the Johnson trade speculation.
"I don’t know why it’s assumed that we’re going to trade Duke Johnson,'' he 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.”
He said he’d play all three backs when Hunt returns from his eight-game suspension.
The Browns have been in no hurry to trade Johnson because his cap number in 2019 is only $3.05 million. If they trade him before June 1, he’ll count $2.25 million against the cap in dead money, and the Browns will save $800,000. If they trade him after June 1, they’ll have $750,000 in dead money and save $2.3 million.
Signed to a three-year, $15.6 million contract extension with the Browns in June, Johnson received a $3 million signing bonus and $7.57 million in guarantees. He has per game bonuses that total $400,000 and a workout bonus of $100,000 each year.
All told, a new team would have to pay him $1.8 million in 2019, $3.6 million in 2020 and $4.65 million in 2021, plus the bonuses totaling $1.5 million. But nothing is guaranteed beyond the $1.8 million this year.
With Odell Beckham Jr. in the house, Jarvis Landry will probably spend even more time in the slot, which will decrease Johnson’s reps there.
Johnson spent much of last season frustrated by his lack of touches, but never went public with his beef except to say a few times that he was embracing his primary role as a blocker.
He thought his chances would increase after offensive coordinator Todd Haley was fired, but they didn’t. He did have nine catches in Kitchens’ first game as coordinator against the Chiefs, but he averaged only 2.5 the rest of the way. All told, Johnson’s touches were drastically reduced from 156 (82 rushing, 74 receiving) in 2017 to only 87 last season (40 rushing, 47 receiving).
Since entering the league in 2015, Johnson’s 6.5 scrimmage yards per touch average is the third-best in the league among running backs. Dating back to his rookie year, Johnson has held a top-three spot in receptions (235) and receiving yards (2,170) among NFL backs. His 235 receptions are the most by a Brown through their first four years.