Amid a hectic afternoon in the NFL on Monday, Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson signaled he wants out. Browns beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot announced on Twitter that the versatile back and his agent have requested a trade.
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) April 1, 2019
Duke Johnson Has a Healthy Market
Less than an hour after they traded Emmanuel Ogbah to the Kansas City Chiefs, another Browns’ player was the source of more headlines. Running back Duke Johnson, a versatile talent that can produce both on the ground and through the air, has formally requested a trade out of Cleveland.
Johnson’s request comes several weeks after it was reported during the NFL Scouting Combine that the Browns were “taking calls” to gauge trade interest for him. At that time, at least three teams were interested but none of them were named.
As of now, Johnson’s trade interest has not depleted. Reports from Monday afternoon listed the Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, and New York Jets as the most likely trade partners for Cleveland in the event that Johnson is ultimately traded. The exact number of teams that have inquired is not publicly known.
Analyzing Johnson’s Best Team Fit
Looking at the three aforementioned teams that have interest in Johnson’s services, it’s worth taking a look at which team is the best fit overall for Johnson. A lot goes into facilitating NFL trades, such as compensation, scheme fit, etc. Below are the three known interested teams ranked in terms of the above criteria for acquiring Johnson.
Yes, the Eagles traded a conditional sixth-round pick in 2020 for Jordan Howard from the Chicago Bears just last week. Yes, trading for two running backs in one off-season sounds absurd. But allow for an explanation as to why this makes too much sense for the Eagles.
The Eagles last week made a fantastic trade for Howard, which would make many fans confused and possibly upset if they turned around and traded for a second running back days later. However, Howard’s skill set has next to nothing in terms of similarities to Johnson’s. Philadelphia loves to split carries between two backs, so pairing Howard with Johnson will provide them with a strong backfield for 2019. The Eagles would use Howard and his downhill, between-the-tackles running style for early downs and deploy Johnson on passing downs to provide Carson Wentz with a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield.
In terms of compensation, the Eagles have more than enough ammunition to get this done. Johnson should not cost more than a mid-to-late-round pick, which is good news for the birds. Philadelphia is armed with two fourths, one fifth and one sixth-round pick in 2019.
Houston already employs Lamar Miller, but while he gets the job done, the Texans could surely benefit from adding a change-of-pace back like Johnson. Outside of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, Houston’s receiving threats are not the best. While Johnson isn’t a receiver on the depth chart, he still does his damage in the passing game. Adding Johnson to the backfield will also add a shiny new toy to Deshaun Watson‘s toolbox on passing plays.
Houston’s draft capital is also adequate enough to swing a deal for Johnson, providing that Cleveland’s asking price is in the projected mid-to-late-round pick range. The Texans own one pick in each of the final three rounds in the 2019 draft.
New York Jets
New York’s interest in Johnson is perplexing, considering that the Jets paid top dollar to bring in former Pittsburgh Steelers back Le’Veon Bell a few weeks ago. Not only is Bell an every down back, arguably the NFL’s best at that, but his skill set also shares a lot of traits with that of Johnson’s. Furthermore, Bell is also a more effective runner than Johnson and does the same amount of damage, if not more, than what Johnson does through the air. Johnson would be nothing more than a depth move by the Jets, which is what he’s been for most of his career in Cleveland.
New York owns the same amount of draft capital as Houston, possessing a selection in each of the final three rounds. Beyond that, New York has a list of needs that will hopefully make them decide that they are not yet a roster ready to fill holes by trading for veteran players to serve in depth roles.