Dynasty league players are keeping a close eye on Kareem Hunt, as his restricted free agent status could have a big impact on how the top of 2020 Fantasy running back lists shake out. After an eight-game suspension in 2019, Hunt returned to a successful second half of the season, one that impacted the productivity of Browns' starter Nick Chubb. If Hunt is not on the Browns roster in 2020, Chubb's Fantasy situation is sure to be looked at more favorably. If Hunt were to land in a favorable situation, his on-field track record is strong enough to suggest he would also be looked at more favorably.
Complicating these matters is Hunt's past. Hunt burst onto the scene as a rookie, going for 246 total yards and three scores in a season-opening Thursday night win over the Patriots in Foxboro in Week 1, 2017. He'd go on to lead the NFL in rushing yardage and add 53 receptions to finish RB3 in standard formats and RB4 in PPR that season.
News of an allegation against Hunt surfaced in the ensuing offseason, but no action was taken before he played 11 games that year. Video of the incident surfaced mid-season and. Hunt finished that 2018 season as the RB2 in points per game in standard scoring formats, and RB8 in PPR.
He wasn't on a roster for the remainder of the 2018 season, but the Browns signed him last offseason to a cheap one-year contract. Hunt served an eight-game suspension to begin 2019, then played eight games for the Browns while being paid just under $600,000, according to Over The Cap.
That background makes Hunt's 2020 offseason status complicated. As a restricted free agent, the Browns have options. They can sign him to a contract, put a tender on him or let him walk to unrestricted free agency. The tender process is typically advantageous to teams, because if another team signs that player to an offer sheet, they have the option to match; if they decline they are awarded a draft pick.
There are three types of tenders — first round, second round and original round, which relates to the round the player was originally selected in the draft. For Hunt, that is the third round. That round is equivalent to the draft pick the Browns would be awarded if another team signed him, except the highest draft pick that can be awarded is a second rounder.
If the Browns tender him and no one else signs him, they keep him on a non-guaranteed one-year contract. In 2019, the original round tender equated to about $2 million for that one-year contract; the second-round value was about $3 million and first-round was about $4.5 million.
So how does Hunt's recent issue play into this? Hunt was pulled over for speeding, and police officersin the vehicle. He was only cited for speeding, but dash cam footage includes Hunt admitting he would have failed a drug test if subjected to one.
It's unclear how the NFL will respond to this, but a suspension could be possible. But based on his past, this recent incident also makes it far less likely Hunt will be signed to a significant contract this offseason. If we theorize on how that impacts the Browns, it means they have less incentive to sign him to anything higher than the original-round tender.
Of course, the Browns have an entirely new regime since Hunt was added to the team, and they may decide to just let Hunt walk altogether. Hunt was effective in 2019, particularly as a receiving back. His impact meant Chubb's 3.1 receptions per game in the first eight games of the season fell to just 1.4 per game with Hunt active, per the RotoViz Game Splits App. Chubb averaged 6.7 fewer PPR points per game with Hunt on the field — 13.0 compared to 19.7 during Hunt's suspension. Hunt, meanwhile, averaged 4.6 catches and 12.6 PPR points per game in 2019.
That production was enough to start discussions about Hunt potentially finding a feature back role again in 2020. His track record on the field certainly indicates he can handle it. But with his history and now this issue, that seems far less likely. If the Browns do tender Hunt it seems unlikely a team would part with a third-round pick plus whatever contract they'd offer to bring him in, when they could use a second- or third-rounder on a rookie at a cheaper salary. Ironically, the Chiefs might be the best possible landing spot for Hunt, and they aren't likely to go back down that road.
So that centers the discussion on whether the Browns will tender Hunt or just let him walk. One's opinion could fall on either side given there are both on-field and off-field considerations, but after his successful return to the field in 2019, a non-guaranteed, roughly $2 million contract over one year would be a good deal from a purely (and possibly cynically) financial perspective, even for the analytically-minded new Browns brass who likely view running backs on the more replaceable side of the spectrum.
Public perception is likely to play into the Browns' — and other teams' — decision, but tendering Hunt is less of a newsworthy move than a new team signing him. It wouldn't be ideal for Fantasy, but I think it's more likely at this point Hunt returns to the Browns than not. It's far from clear, but Dynasty players have decisions to make on the value of both Hunt and Chubb, and the prevailing wisdom seems to be they won't be competing for touches in 2020 like they did down the stretch in 2019.
And that would mean that Chubb — for 2020, at least — would likely be a lower-end top-10 running back in drafts than the potential top-five option he would be if Hunt left. For Chubb's part, he told our Jamey Eisenberg at the Pro Bowl he liked playing with Hunt, saying, "I did (like sharing the ball with him). Kareem is my boy. He's an amazing person. A great player. He's fun to be around and play with. I hope to keep that going."
But if that happens, Hunt seems unlikely to be valued much higher than he was last offseason, particularly if he's again facing a suspension, which is far from being considered a potential top-10 option for 2020 himself if he landed in the right (full-time) situation elsewhere.
How this plays out will have a big impact on both of their values for 2020, and while the recent incident could make the Browns less likely to tender Hunt, it also makes other teams far less likely to sign him away if they do.