Who would have thought that the Cleveland Browns might have talent that other teams would want to poach? Well, the New England Patriots did, at least. They traded for not one, not two, but three Browns just last offseason, including starting cornerback Jason McCourty, who made a critical touchdown-saving play in the Super Bowl. The other two were wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was their leading receiver at the time of his suspension, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton. They also previously traded for Barkevious Mingo.
Now, perhaps the Pittsburgh Steelers should give some thought to making a trade. According to reports, veteran running back Duke Johnson is requesting that the team trade him, and John Dorsey hasn’t been shy about trading players away during his brief tenure with the team.
Cleveland signed Johnson to a three-year deal worth $15.6 million just last offseason, prior to their drafting Nick Chubb in the 2018 NFL Draft and recently bringing aboard Kareem Hunt, who will begin the season serving an eight-game suspension.
The Steelers should be in the market for a running back to pair with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. If Johnson were to be acquired, he would assuredly be the number two over Samuels, however. Despite playing in all 16 games last season, Johnson was used for a career-low 87 touches, yet he averaged five yards per carry and over nine yards per reception.
Johnson is a skilled pass-catcher who has 235 receptions for 2170 yards and eight touchdowns in his career, and that has been his primary mode of usage in Cleveland, whom many believe has been underutilizing his talents. Hell, the contract that they signed him to indicates that the front office sees more in him than the coaches do.
If the Steelers were to acquire him, he would come with a 2019 cap hit of $2.3 million prior to displacement. He has a $1.8 million fully guaranteed base salary along with a $400,000 roster bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus. The roster bonus is paid on a per-game basis.
Adding to the appeal would be the fact that Pittsburgh wouldn’t affect its compensatory pick formula by trading for a player who was not acquired as an unrestricted free agent by another team earlier that same offseason, as was the case when they traded for J.J. Wilcox in 2017.
To be clear, however, there is no report indicating that the Steelers have shown any interest in Johnson, but others such as the Eagles, Jets, and Texans have, at least according to the rumors.
The fact that he doesn’t really contribute on special teams will not help his case, but he certainly appears to be a good guy—even with his request to be traded. You might remember Johnson as the player who would pay respects to Ryan Shazier after scoring following the linebacker’s injury, even though he didn’t personally know him.