When the Cleveland Browns signed running back Kareem Hunt this week, the move mangled the sensibilities of those who believe he should never be allowed to play in the NFL again.
After all, this is the guy who was seen kicking and shoving a woman on video in a Cleveland hotel last February, one who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs in December when it became clear he’d mischaracterized details of the incident to the team.
Not only that, Hunt is the same person who has been involved in at least two other incidents during which he’s badly behaved.
It all goes back to the credo that being a professional athlete is a privilege and not a right and the Browns should have abided that and looked elsewhere for help. Even though Hunt is in counseling, the NFL is still investigating the depth and nature of his transgression.
However, the Browns have a different viewpoint and that’s one which goes beyond whatever Hunt has done wrong off the field. They are looking for great football players and are willing to gamble Hunt is not only socially redeemable, but talented enough to help them win.
Is Hunt a great football player? You be the judge: He led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017 with 1,327 yards. In 11 games last season, he ran for 824 yards, scored seven touchdowns and caught 35 passes for seven more touchdowns.
Now, look at the way Hunt’s one-year contract is structured. There is no guaranteed money. Cleveland is taking no financial risk. They are putting the onus entirely on him to show the team, the league and society, really, that is sorry for what he did.
Hunt’s deal, reportedly for $1.1 million, will be heavily weighted with incentive bonus based on how many games he plays and how well he performs. Once the NFL concludes its investigation, if it decides to suspend Hunt, he will not get paid.
According to ESPN.com, Hunt’s contract includes a base salary of $645,000 for the 2019 season. He will get a $25,000 bonus for each game he plays (there are 16) and another $55,000 if he sticks to the offseason workout program that’s been given to him.
If the NFL suspends Hunt, he will lose almost $63,000 per week – the prorated amount of his base salary and the lost bonus. In most cases like this, the league has usually assigns four-game suspensions. So do the math: Hunt will be out a quarter-million.
This is a business transaction by the Browns. They are not asking any beneficial treatment from the league, nor are they expecting any. What they are depending on is a positive result from the investigation. That would allow Hunt to continue his career. And that will give the Browns a dynamic rushing and receiving asset for Baker Mayfield to play with.
From a personal standpoint, the Browns are relying on what they believe they already know about Hunt’s makeup. General manager John Dorsey was serving in the same capacity with the Chiefs in 2017 when they drafted him. They must see something good in the player.
“I think we’re all appalled by it,” Dorsey said of Hunt’s actions. “But after doing extensive research, analyzing the situation, we came to the conclusion that I’m willing to help a man from a second chance moving forward to be a better person. My faith tells me that.
“We’ve done our extensive research. He’s extremely remorseful for that. I’ve always believed that if a person wants to better themselves and be a better person, I’m willing to give them a chance. I truly believe he’ll be a better man today than he was yesterday.”
Understandably, the Browns are taking a major hit because of this. Advocacy groups are assailing the move, much like they did whenever anyone mentioned Ravens running back Ray Rice might get another job after he lost his career for knocking a woman out in an elevator.
There rightly must be consequences for athletes who decide its OK to physically attack others, particularly women. But you’d think circumstances would be the same for those who abuse recreation drugs, like receiver Josh Gordon, or are guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs, like Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman.
They are not. After serving penance and/or announcing their contrition, these athletes are let back into the game until the time they misbehave again, which Gordon – ironically a former Cleveland player – did this season to earn his release from New England.
Hunt is not the first player with a history of domestic abuse that Dorsey has helped. While in Kansas City, he took a chance on Tyreek Hill, who in 2014 pleaded guilty to punching choking his pregnant girlfriend while he was a football player at Oklahoma State. Dorsey took him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft and Hill has been, by all accounts, a great guy.
After being the laughingstock of the league in 2016 and 2017, when they were 1-31, the Browns made incremental improvement last season after firing coach Hue Jackson. If things work out for Hunt, as they did for Hill, both parties will reap the benefits.
“(He’s) 23 years old,” Dorsey said. “We all saw the video. We all saw it was an egregious act. We understand that, but to understand the depths and complexities of it and of the person, let’s find out what’s in that person. And I truly, in my heart of hearts, believe there is a humble soul within that person, I really do. He owns up to it, he admits it, he does. Is he remorseful? Yeah, he’s remorseful and I think he understands the magnitude of it and right now he wants to be a better person and prove to people that, you know what, that was an isolated mistake that (he) made and that will never happen again. He’s got to earn that trust from today moving forward.”