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Browns trade Duke Johnson to Houston

By MARY KAY CABOT • Aug 8, 2019 at 12:30 PM

CLEVELAND — The Browns granted running back Duke Johnson his wish on Thursday and traded him to the Houston Texans.

The Browns will receive a fourth-round draft pick in 2020 that can improve to a third.

Johnson, who asked to be traded in March and re-iterated that request during minicamp in June, has missed all but the first two days of training camp with a hamstring injury.

He hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus last month to help him get traded, and the strategy apparently worked.

Rosehaus flew to Cleveland to meet with Browns GM John Dorsey on July 23 — then visited Browns training camp again six days later, on July 29th to check back in with the Browns and his client.

The Browns have maintained all along that they had no plans to trade the disgruntled running back, but it was always clear that they’d do so if the right offer came along. Multiple teams were interested in Johnson throughout the offseason, but no one has come through with the right offer until now.

Johnson skipped the voluntary workout program, including OTAs and the extra minicamp for new head coaches. He showed up for mandatory minicamp, but only because he would’ve been fined more than $88,000 if he had skipped it.

Johnson said at minicamp that there’s nothing the Browns can do to mend the fences after trying to trade him in the offseason without his knowledge.

“I only want to be somewhere I’m wanted,’’ Johnson said. “At the end of the day, that’s all this is about, being somewhere you’re wanted. In my case, the moment I’m not wanted anymore, I think it’s best that we find a middle ground and we do what’s best for the team. If you don’t want me here, there’s no need to keep me or force me to be here if you don’t want me here."

Coach Freddie Kitchens insisted throughout the offseason that Johnson would be an integral part of the offense this year. Dorsey even said on 92.3 The Fan last week that Kitchens "has big plans'' for Johnson this season.

"We’ve said from the very beginning that Duke is a Cleveland Brown,'' Kitchens said during the opening press conference of training camp July 24. "He signed a contract last year. He’s going to be here, he’s going to have a role in our offense and he’s going to have a significant role in our offense. He’s a productive player. We’re not giving away good players, OK?''

What’s more, Kitchens said, "we want good players, and if John can get more good players, I’ll take them. Don’t worry about the ball, all right. We’ll find enough balls for them, all right. We just want good players that can make plays, all right?''

During that same press conference, Dorsey said his initial meeting with Rosenhaus went well. Johnson and Rosenhaus still wanted a new home for the running back at that point, but the meeting was cordial.

"We had the chance to discuss each other’s sides. I had a chance to state my opinions, he had a chance to state his opinions. This is the first day of training camp, it looks like Duke’s here, so he’s reported to training camp.''

Dorsey agreed with Kitchens that Johnson would have a pivotal role in Kitchens’ scheme — but there was always the underlying vibe that they’d move him if a team offered a mid-round pick.

The writing was initially on the wall in February that Johnson would ultimately be traded when Dorsey said he wasn’t expendable "yet'' in the wake of the Kareem Hunt signing. The signing didn’t sit well with Johnson, and it marked the beginning of the end.

When he heard through the league grapevine that the Browns were engaging in trade talks for him, he asked to be traded, but the Browns couldn’t find the third- or fourth-round pick they were seeking.

The tension between Johnson and the Browns escalated during minicamp, when Johnson re-iterated his trade request during his podium interview, and Baker Mayfield stood listening in on the fringes, at times shaking his head.

When it was Mayfield’s turn to take the podium a few minutes later, he let Johnson have it, saying his situation with the club was “self-inflicted’’ and “obviously he’s going to handle his stuff how he wants, but you’re either on this train or you’re not, it’s moving. You can get out of the way or you can join us. So it is what it is."

Johnson wasn’t available to the media again after that, but his previous agent’s husband called out Mayfield the next day for sticking his nose in Johnson’s business.

“F--- Baker Mayfield for saying that dumb s--- about Duke Johnson,” tweeted legendary 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell, husband of Johnson’s agent Kristin Campbell. “I guarantee you be the one to divide this locker room up. You are not in Texas at Cracker Barrel.”

“Uncle Luke” Campbell came back at Mayfield again on Twitter on Friday, listing all the elite quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning who were traded by their original teams and warning him “don’t ever turn on your teammates for management — you are not exempt.’’

It was clear that Johnson and the Browns had reached the point of no return, but they had to wait for the right offer, and Rosenhaus helped accelerate the process.

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