As Kareem Hunt attempts to get the Cleveland Browns to take his request for a contract extension seriously, the harsh reality is that his present with the team, let alone his future is likely linked to the length of a suspension quarterback Deshaun Watson will have to serve.
It's not difficult to sympathize with Hunt's situation. He's facing his football mortality, having earned a total of $11.33 million dollars with another $6.25 million coming in 2022. Entering the last year of his contract after missing nine games due to injury, Hunt is painfully aware of the prospect that another injury could end any chance of a lucrative payout to finish out his playing career, which may only last another season or few.
Having just turned 27 years old, Hunt should live several more decades and wants the money he earns in the NFL to last as long as possible. So from his standpoint, a contract extension would alleviate concerns both this coming season and making the transition to life after football.
Unfortunately, the Browns organization may feel for Hunt, but they have zero incentive to commit more money to him. Hunt is a talented player that has value to the Browns and their offense, but it was always debatable whether it made sense to sign him again after this year even if Watson was to play the entire season.
Utilizing him in a role akin to Alvin Kamara, he could occasionally run the ball, but is more valuable as a receiving threat who can also pass protect. With depth including D'Ernest Johnson and rookie Jerome Ford behind him, utilizing both Hunt and Nick Chubb together is safer, more prudent, allowing the Browns the freedom to play their best 11 players on offense. A great year for Hunt could force the Browns to keep the tandem intact.
Should Watson be suspended for 12 games or more, Hunt's value to the Browns drops dramatically. Even as fans and media will speculate on how the the Browns could acquire another quarterback, the season is lost at that point. Jimmy Garoppolo, Gardner Minshew, Colin Kaepernick or even Philip Rivers coming out of retirement aren't going to save this team in a loaded AFC field whether Hunt is here or not.
The Browns would be better off trading Hunt and recouping one of the six draft picks they sent in the deal to acquire Watson as they look to strengthen their chances in 2023 and beyond. That might not come until the trade deadline this season, but they should try to get something back for a player they would no longer have in their future plans.
Part of the reason Hunt wants a contract extension is going to make teams less inclined to deal for him. His playing style is chaos and violence. Hunt runs as hard as he can as fast as he can and he contorts his body in ways that create awkward, painful hits. His brutality can be wildly effective against opposing defenses, but often comes at a cost as he wears down over the course of the season. Contrast that against teammate Nick Chubb, who is elegance personified both in how he anticipates and takes on contact.
Even if Hunt is not the same player he was when he won the rushing title his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs, he's a multifaceted back that can move the ball and is great near the goal line. He could be a great pickup for a team looking to compliment what they already have.
The Browns might be hoping for a fourth-round pick in that scenario, but might be settling for a fifth, maybe with a future late round pick thrown into the mix.
Regardless of whether Hunt stays with the Browns or ends up with another team, it's unlikely he's going to receive the contract extension he wants. Hunt will have to stay healthy and show he's worth additional years and money.
For the time being, Hunt's demands will fall on deaf ears because the Browns won't know how they will proceed with him until they have a resolution to Watson's situation with the league.