The Cleveland Browns are determined to shift the balance of power in the AFC North.
The revamped franchise recently signed running back Kareem Hunt, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs in November after a video showed him shoving and kicking a woman. Hunt has not been charged for the incident. However, the NFL is still conducting its own investigation into the matter.
The Browns are fully prepared to endure the backlash of the deal in exchange for a game-breaking playmaker. Cleveland has the potential to field the most explosive offense in the division with Rookie of the Year runner-up Baker Mayfield at quarterback and Jarvis Landry as the primary receiver.
Cleveland’s PR machine had all hands on deck trying to soften the public’s stance on the signing of Hunt.
“First off, I would like to once again apologize for my actions last year,” Hunt said in a statement released by the team. “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. I’m extremely grateful that John Dorsey, Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the Cleveland Browns organization are granting me the opportunity to earn their trust and represent their organization in the best way possible on and off the field.
“I am committed to following the necessary steps to learn and to be a better and healthier person from this situation. 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,” he added.
There was some outrage among the Cleveland fans, but that response could further soften if Hunt runs for over a 1,000 yards next season.
The move also puts more pressure on the Ravens to boost the talent of their roster this offseason.
However, don’t expect the team to take the same route as Cleveland.
The Ravens placed an emphasis on high-character players after video surfaced of Ray Rice assaulting his future wife in an elevator at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City. The team later cut ties with the running back and has not signed a player with a history of domestic violence ever since.
“Domestic abuse? Not taking them,” owner Steve Bisciotti said in the annual “State of the Ravens” press conference in January 2017.
New general manager Eric DeCosta will maintain the standards the team set under Ozzie Newsome. This means the Ravens will look to build their roster through the draft, spend responsibly in free agency and then scour the waiver wire for valuable depth.
This might not be the best path to get ahead in the NFL, but the Ravens are comfortable with their strategy. The team also has some young playmakers to build around, most notably quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Despite some hiccups in recent years, the Ravens did have one of the league’s most productive drafts. The team is also coming off its first AFC North title since 2012.
The Ravens also place an emphasis on integrity, underscored by extending the contract of coach John Harbaugh. DeCosta said Harbaugh brings more to the team than just wins.
“I think his determination, his drive, his love of his players, the respect he commands in the locker room, his passion. I think he’s a man of integrity, honesty, great character. I admire a lot of things about him,” DeCosta said.
The Ravens won’t take the Browns signing of Hunt lightly.
Pittsburgh is preoccupied with its own problems now that receiver Antonio Brown is demanding a trade.
Cincinnati is dealing with an entire new coaching staff.
Cleveland is ready to seize an opportunity.