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Falcons Trade Idea: Acquire Browns RB?

D'Ernest Johnson shined when given a chance in Cleveland last season.

Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith came to chew gum and run the football, and he's all out of gum.

Tasked with improving a team that ranked 27th in rushing yards per game the year before his arrival, Smith's first campaign in Atlanta showed no progress, with the Falcons ranking 31st league-wide in the category and totaling almost 10 yards fewer per game than the year prior.

The transition from Tennessee, where Smith led the second-best rushing attack in the league, was always going to be difficult. After all, the Titans have Derrick Henry, and the Falcons don't have anybody near his size or skill level. Further, Smith's first Falcons team had two first-year starters on the interior.

Still, the Falcons enjoyed Cordarrelle Patterson's breakout campaign at running back, which he parlayed into a two-year contract, and drafted BYU ballcarrier Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round. 

The team also added free agent tailback Damien Williams, perhaps best known for his performance in Super Bowl LIV with the Kansas City Chiefs, in which he ran for 104 yards and scored twice en route to lifting the Lombardi Trophy.

However, according to PFF, the Falcons should add to their running back's room in the form of Cleveland Browns rusher D'Ernest Johnson.

Johnson was a restricted free agent but signed a one-year contract with the Browns rather than inking his tender. An acquiring team would take on his $1.065 million salary plus up to $1.2165 million in incentives. It would only make sense for the Browns to trade Johnson if they hold onto Kareem Hunt. The Falcons added Damien Williams, re-signed Cordarrelle Patterson and drafted Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round but could still use a young running back with potential. It came in a smaller sample, but Johnson actually led all running backs with a 90.6 rushing grade in 2021. - PFF's Doug Kyed

Johnson, 26, is on a one-year deal in Cleveland, and the Falcons would take on a $1.4 million non-guaranteed contract, a small price to pay for the talented runner. The 5-10, 208-pound Johnson started two games for the Browns last season, rushing for 245 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries while catching nine passes for 80 yards on 10 targets.

This offseason, ESPN named Johnson as a "prime training camp trade candidate," with The Draft Network listing the Falcons as one of three teams that should consider trading for the former South Florida star.

The Falcons continue their offseason search for dual-threat running backs. Head Coach Arthur Smith is a fan of ball carriers that can also run routes and makes plays coming out of the backfield. Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot recently signed a similar player in Jeremy McNichols, but McNichols was waived from that contract on June 16. Atlanta’s search for personnel upgrades at running back now continues. Johnson is a better player than Damien Williams and Qadree Ollison, who are both battling for roster spots with the Falcons as we speak. Johnson could actually carve out a borderline starting-like role for himself in Atlanta. - The Draft Network's Justin Melo

Johnson has now been linked to the Falcons multiple times throughout the offseason, largely due to his fit in Atlanta's wide-zone offense, the team's potential need for another running back, and his seemingly pending availability. Due to his age and having plenty of tread on his proverbial tires, Johnson could realistically contribute for several seasons at his next destination 

Whether or not Johnson ultimately ends up in Atlanta remains to be seen but adding a runner who's proven he can be successful when giving the opportunity is an intriguing thought for a Falcons team without a clear lead back. After all, Smith came to Atlanta to run the ball, and Johnson is certainly good at doing that.