Troubled but talented running back Kareem Hunt returned to an NFL roster Monday, when he was signed to a contract by the Cleveland Browns a little more than two months after he was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs when video was released in late November showing him shoving and kicking a woman during an incident in a Cleveland hotel earlier last year.
It’s not clear when Hunt, 23, will play for the Browns. He faces a potential suspension without pay by the NFL next season under its personal conduct policy. For now, he returns to the commissioner’s exempt list while he awaits the league’s disciplinary decision.
“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,” Browns General Manager John Dorsey said in a written statement released by the team. “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.”
Dorsey said the Browns “fully understand” that Hunt remains subject to discipline by the league.
“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,” Dorsey said. “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.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week that the league was close to completing its investigation of Hunt.
“That hopefully will happen soon,” Goodell said then. “But we haven’t completed the investigation. We’re working to do that. There has been a tremendous amount of progress, though, in that investigation over the last, I’d say, 30 to 60 days.”
Goodell said at the Super Bowl that Hunt would return to the commissioner’s exempt list if signed by a team, pending the NFL completing its investigation and making a decision about a suspension.
Hunt was not charged with a crime in the incident last February. But the personal conduct policy empowers the league to discipline a player in the absence of criminal charges if the NFL believes following an investigation that such measures are warranted.
Under the policy, the baseline suspension for a player involved in an incident of domestic violence is six games. That can be increased or decreased, depending on circumstances. The suspension would be without pay.
Hunt would have the right to appeal any suspension. But some within the league believe that he plans to accept a suspension without appealing, thus avoiding a long and drawn-out process that could become contentious and push his suspension later into the season. The NFL Players Association went to court and managed to delay the onset of suspensions in disciplinary cases involving New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, only to see the NFL prevail on appeal, enforce the suspensions in full and have Goodell’s disciplinary authority upheld.
Players are paid while on the commissioner’s exempt list. Being placed on the list amounts to being put on paid administrative leave. But NFL players are paid their salaries during the regular season, not during the offseason. Hunt’s one-year deal with the Browns potentially is worth a little more than $1 million, before any money is lost to a prospective suspension. He would be eligible for restricted free agency following the 2019 season.
When the Chiefs released Hunt soon after TMZ published video of the incident, they said he had not been truthful with team officials about what had happened.
“First off, I would like to once again apologize for my actions last year,” Hunt said in a written statement released Monday by the Browns. “What I did was wrong and inexcusable. That is not the man I was raised to be, and I’ve learned a great deal from that experience and certainly should have been more truthful about it after the fact.
Hunt has ties to the Cleveland area, having played high school football in nearby Willoughby, Ohio, and attended college at Toledo. He said he’s “extremely grateful” to Dorsey, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the team for “granting me the opportunity to earn their trust and represent their organization in the best way possible” on the playing field and off it.
“I am committed to following the necessary steps to learn and to be a better and healthier person from this situation,” Hunt said. “I also understand the expectations that the Browns have clearly laid out and that I have to earn my way back to the NFL. I’m a work in progress as a person, but I’m committed to taking advantage of the support systems that I have in place to become the best and healthier version of myself.”
Hunt is being given the second on-field chance that never was granted to former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was not signed by an NFL team following his domestic violence case in 2014. Rice was cut by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after TMZ released video showing him striking a woman, then his fiancee and now his wife, in a hotel elevator in Atlantic City.
Rice’s indefinite suspension by the league later was overturned on appeal, given that the NFL originally had suspended him for only two games before video of the incident became public. But his reinstatement did not result in another opportunity to play in the NFL.
Many within the sport were convinced all along that Hunt would be given another chance, given his youth and on-field promise. Hunt was a Pro Bowl selection and led the league in rushing with 1,327 yards for the Chiefs as a rookie in 2017. He ran for 824 yards in 11 games this past season before being released.
Speculation about which team might sign Hunt had focused on the Browns and Chicago Bears. Dorsey is the former general manager of the Chiefs. Bears Coach Matt Nagy formerly was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Dorsey cited his past with Hunt as a factor in the Browns’ willingness to employ him.
“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.”
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