Duke Johnson Trade A Win For All
By Ben Rolfe
Duke Johnson's arrival in Houston makes for a good move for both the Texans and Browns.
Sometimes in sports, it is possible for a trade to happen in which both sides win. It does not happen as often as we might like, as often teams get stuck needing to offload a player and have to take a loss to make it happen. Fortunately for the Texans and Browns, the Duke Johnson trade was one of those victories for both sides.
In fact, the trade was also a victory for Johnson, who should see a bigger role with the Texans. After releasing D’Onta Foreman the Texans were lacking any real experience behind Lamar Miller. The addition of Johnson gives them that experience.
The price the Texans paid for Johnson is not insignificant. A fourth-round pick, potentially rising to a third is a respectable price. However, it is also not a king’s ransom for a player whose role has been marginalised in the NFL. As I said above it is simply a fair deal. The Browns get a pick for a player they no longer had a role for. The Texans get an experienced player for the cost of a pick that might never pan out in the NFL.
Johnson’s contract is actually pretty friendly as you will see below.
Just a $2.2 million cap hit this season, rising to a maximum of $5.15 million if they do not restructure. However, the crucial part lies in the dead cap or lack thereof. If the Texans cut Johnson after this season all it has cost them is the draft pick and this year’s salary. Even in 2020, his $4.1 million hit is not overly significant, so the Texans are unlikely to regret this deal, even if they splash the cash next offseason.
There are two angles to look at how this affects the roles on teams. Firstly, how does it impact the Browns and then what does it mean for the Texans?
This move could not really make much more sense for the Browns. Nick Chubb cemented himself as the back in Cleveland last year. They also added Kareem Hunt, who will return from suspension in the middle of the season to provide the offense a boost. Johnson did not really have a role in this offense, outside of spelling Chubb early in the year. Once Hunt returns that role was likely to be even less.
The only thing this trade does is leave the Browns short-handed in the short term. If Chubb were to get injured before Hunt is back then they would have no obvious candidate to step in. However, running backs are relatively a dime a dozen on waivers, and short term a back can come in and have an immediate effect. There will also likely be some serviceable backs cut at the end of training camp and the Browns will look to potentially add one of those as insurance for Chubb.
Now we reach the one place where this Johnson trade may hamper someone. Lamar Miller was looking rosy as the only man in town in Houston, but that is not the case anymore. Whether this affects Miller depends on how the Texans and Bill O’Brien view Johnson.
In Cleveland, Johnson has largely been a passing back as the numbers below will show you.
If this is the same way the Texans intend to use Johnson then his role will be largely limited to slot receiver and third down back. Even if that is the role then this trade is still good value. Miller has over 40 receptions just once in his career, and his game does not tend to revolve around being a regular pass catching back. The Texans will benefit from having someone who is primarily a good pass catcher. Johnson can absolutely provide that role.
However, there is also room for Johnson to get rushing work alongside Miller. Miller had 210 carries last season with Alfred Blue also carrying the ball 150 times. If we go back to Johnson’s days at college we can see he was a very effective back when it comes to running the ball.
Johnson and Miller can co-exist nicely in this offense in 2019. Johnson has the talent to be a lead back, but with Miller in the final year of his contract I expect to see the Texans willing to ride him hard in 2019. This could be a wonderful 1-2 punch for the Texans, and that is without us even touching on the running abilities of Deshaun Watson. An already exciting offense in Houston just got even more exciting following this trade.
Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports & AP Photo/David Richard