Why the Bucs took a pass on running back Kareem Hunt

Hunt, who signed with the Browns, could still face a six-game suspension by the NFL.
Kareem Hunt walks off the field prior to a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams in November in Los Angeles. [AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo]
Kareem Hunt walks off the field prior to a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams in November in Los Angeles. [AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo]
Published February 11

Kareem Hunt was always expected to get another chance to play in the NFL, but it wasn't going to be the Bucs that gave it to him.

The Cleveland Browns signed Hunt to a 1-year deal Monday. He still could face a six-game suspension by the league after a video surfaced that showed the former Chiefs running back shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel in February of 2018.

It’s one of several incidents the league still is investigating involving Hunt.

The Bucs couldn’t afford to take a chance on Hunt, particularly because they already are under scrutiny for the trouble that seemed to follow Jameis Winston to the NFL.

Certainly, the Bucs could use a running back with Hunt’s talent. Tampa Bay has struggled to run the football the past three years, failing to post a 1,000-yard rusher again and finishing 31st with an average of 3.9 yards per carry in 2018.

Last season, Peyton Barber led the Bucs with 871 yards rushing and five touchdowns. But his 3.7-yard average was 40th in the league among those with at least 100 rushing attempts.

But the biggest disappointment was rookie Ronald Jones, the second-round pick from Southern Cal.

Jones was expected to give the Bucs explosive plays in the running game. He was used very sparingly by the Trojans as a pass catcher.

But Jones got off to a horrible start as a rookie, injured his hamstring, and never really got on track.

Jones, who rushed for more than 3,600 yards and 39 touchdowns for the Trojans, played in only nine games for the Bucs in 2018. He finished with 23 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown.

Why not sign Hunt? Aside from the public relations hit, the Bucs believe they can and will get a lot more from Jones this season. The Bucs also have two new offensive line coaches that will emphasize toughness and finishing runs.

The Bucs believe that on more than half of Jones’ runs, he was hit behind the line of scrimmage because of missed blocking assignments, mental errors, etc.

And Jones clearly lost confidence. Not only that, the Bucs coaching staff lost confidence in him.

New coach Bruce Arians believes he and his staff can get the most out of Jones. Last season was almost like a redshirt year for Jones, and he should be better prepared.

Browns general manager John Dorsey was in Kansas City when the Chiefs drafted Hunt. He knows the signing will be criticized.

“My relationship and interaction with Kareem since 2016 in college was an important part of this decision-making process, but we then did extensive due diligence with many individuals, including clinical professionals, to have a better understanding of the person he is today and whether it was prudent to sign him,” Dorsey said. “There were two important factors: one is that Kareem took full responsibility for his egregious actions and showed true remorse and secondly, just as importantly, he is undergoing and is committed to necessary professional treatment and a plan that has been clearly laid out.”

The Browns simply felt as if Hunt deserved a second chance, one the Bucs could not afford to give him.

“We fully understand and respect the complexity of questions and issues in signing a player with Kareem’s history and do not condone his actions,’’ Dorsey said. “Given what we know about Kareem through our extensive research, we believe he deserves a second chance but certainly with the understanding that he has to go through critical and essential steps to become a performing member of this organization, aside from what the NFL determines from their ongoing investigation.

"We fully understand that Kareem is subject to discipline by the NFL. Here at the Browns, there is a detailed plan with expectations laid out that he understands and must follow, because any similar incident will not be tolerated. We will support Kareem through this process and utilize our resources, however permitted, to help him become successful on and off the field as long as he continues to show the commitment necessary to represent this organization.”

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