The 2019 offseason for the Dallas Cowboys looks like it’s going to be a wild one. The Cowboys have focused their attention on the free agent safety class, will be looking to sign long-term extensions with several of their top players and now it seems they’ll be in the trade market as well. In the afternoon, yesterday, a report came out that the Cowboys were interested in Cleveland Browns Running Back Duke Johnson.
Andy Slater, from 640 AM The Hurricane out of Miami, that the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles have both expressed interest in trading for the Cleveland Browns running back.
SLATER SCOOP: Eagles and Cowboys have both expressed interest in trading for Browns RB Duke Johnson, source tells me. @MaryKayCabot first reported interest by multiple teams.
Johnson, a former Miami Hurricane drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, has played in every game in his four seasons in the NFL. Coming out of college, he profiled as a player who could be given 20 touches a game, but it never really led to that in Cleveland, instead becoming one of the better receiving backs in the NFL in his short time in the league.
The Browns thought so much of Johnson that they gave him a contract extension during the 2018 offseason, but then proceeded to draft Nick Chubb in the second round of last year’s draft. Then in an odd turn of events, they added Kareem Hunt to their backfield. Now Johnson looks like the odd man out in an offense that features two dynamic running backs who have proven to be workhorses in their short time in the NFL.
Johnson would make an excellent compliment to Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. After averaging 3.6 yards per carry his rookie season, he’s since averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the last three seasons. He’s only had 100 or more carries one time, again in his rookie year and has averaged only 65 carries a season the last three, with 2018 being a new low when he only received 40 carries. Call that the Chubb effect.
In the passing game, though, Johnson maintained a prominent role. Over the course of his career with the Browns, he averaged 59 receptions for 542 yards and two touchdowns a season. His best season was in 2017, where he rushed for 348 yards on 82 carries and four touchdowns while catching 74 passes on 93 targets for 693 yards and three touchdowns.
Though Duke Johnson played more than 42% of the snaps on offense for the Browns in 2018, the offense took on a more aggressive look than it had with Baker Mayfield at the helm. Instead of having to rely on checkdowns, Mayfield was pushing the ball down the field with more regularity than Tyrod Taylor, who averaged only 5.6 yards per attempt compared to Mayfield’s 7.7.
Johnson has proven to be a good complimentary piece in the NFL and can handle 5-10 touches per game, which would help to ease some of Ezekiel Elliott’s nearly 400 touch pace over the last couple of seasons. If the Cowboys are planning to have Elliott around for the long-haul, they need to create a plan to not run their investment into the ground. Duke Johnson can help with that.
If there’s a reason not to trade for Duke Johnson, it comes in the form of his salary. He’ll count $3 million against the cap in 2019, nearly $5 million in 2020, and almost $6 million in 2021. They would have outs though. In 2020, the Cowboys could walk away with only $750,000 in dead money on the cap in both 2020 and 2021 by releasing him with a post-June 1st designation while getting $4.1 million in savings. If they wanted to release him without the post-June 1st designation, they would be better off doing it in 2021, where they can get $5.1 million in savings with only $750,000 in dead money on the cap.
Trades are always a difficult proposition as teams have to find common ground on what the player is worth. Throw another team into the mix, as the Philadelphia Eagles are also reportedly interested, and trades like this become even more difficult.
If the Cowboys do make the trade, they’ll be getting a good player. For the first three years of his career, he was one of the best offensive players the Browns had, but was generally relegated to passing game duty. Johnson’s been a player longed after by Cowboys fans and media alike since he declared for the NFL Draft in 2015. Many thought the Cowboys should take a run at him and make him their feature back instead of relying upon Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden.
Now the Cowboys get an opportunity to right a wrong from their past by trading for the former third round pick.