Just 19 months ago, Kareem Hunt was on the cusp of NFL stardom, a key cog in the league’s most dynamic offense. And as Patrick Mahomes turned into a bona fide super-duper star in the fall of 2018, Hunt seemed primed to be the Emmitt Smith to Mahomes’ Troy Aikman for the next decade in Kansas City.
Then, it all came crashing down. The Chiefs released him in November 2018, following the release of a video that showed him shoving and kicking a woman during an argument in a hotel hallway.
After receiving professional counseling, Hunt got a second chance from his hometown Cleveland Browns. He enjoyed a short revival before a January traffic stop, where police found a small amount of marijuana and an open container of vodka in his car. A solemn Hunt lamented being released by the Chiefs, admitted he wouldn’t pass a drug test if the police administered one and pleaded with the officer to let him go.
Still, the Browns seem prepared to give the talented 24-year-old, who was cited for speeding during the traffic stop, another chance.
“I am blessed that the Browns gave me another opportunity, so yes, I am lucky to have another opportunity to play football,” Hunt said on a Zoom conference call, his first interview with reporters since the January incident. “You never know. Honestly, I am just blessed to play the game, so I always feel lucky to play football. I know any second it can be gone.”
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam hinted as much when asked in February how troubled he was by the traffic stop.
“It is not good,” Haslam said, his bottom lip curled under his top lip. “Kareem knows he has got to [be] better. Kevin [Stefanski] and Andrew [Berry] have talked to him about it, and I will just leave it at that.”
After speaking to Berry, the team’s new general manager, and Stefanski, the team’s new head coach, Hunt says he understands his last run-in with the law was unacceptable.
“I got to be smarter and cannot be doing stuff like that — we had a good talk,” Hunt said. “They see me on the field as a guy who is going to make some plays this year and help the team win. That is what I have been looking forward to. We have been talking. I keep in touch with Coach all the time about what he wants to see and stuff like that.”
It’s notable that Berry and Stefanski are showing patience with Hunt, since neither is responsible for bringing him to Cleveland (former general manager John Dorsey did that). It’s an indication they see Hunt’s talent, as he’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and chipped in as lead blocker on a regular basis last season.
Stefanski and his staff are ready to let Hunt rebound, provided he proves his accountability on a daily basis.
Hunt is working with the wide receivers during virtual workouts this offseason. He says he sees himself as an excellent fit in Stefanski’s zone running scheme next to starting running back Nick Chubb.
“I definitely talk to Nick, we talk a lot,” Hunt said. “We definitely feel like we can thrive, because we saw how [Vikings running back] Dalvin Cook was doing last year in Stefanski’s offense, and he did not disappoint. They had another running back [Alexander Mattison] who did not disappoint, either. We definitely think we can take advantage of his zone run scheme.”
Hunt has no shortage of motivation, either. Perhaps the most gut-wrenching part of his traffic stop video was hearing him opine about how missing out on the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run hurt his soul. On Monday, Hunt admitted that he still has love for the Chiefs.
“I got brothers on that team, I came in with a lot of those players, love the coaches there,” Hunt said. “All good people and they deserved it, and I am happy for them. I talk to a lot of them and I am very happy for them. They are champs — they deserve it. I know how hard that team works and how hard they stress to be great.”
He also thinks the Browns, a team he’s looking to stay with in the long run, can win the Super Bowl, too, and that’s something worth playing — and staying out of trouble — for.
“No question, I think we can do something special here,” Hunt said. “I want to get that Super Bowl feeling and I believe we can do it here in my hometown. That would be bigger than anything for me … I have been a fan my whole life. I have been with Cleveland my whole life.”
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