CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns gave Kareem Hunt a second chance, and now they’re willing to dangle him.
Cleveland opened a unique and unprecedented free agency period Monday by placing a second-round tender on Kareem Hunt, the troubled running back who played eight games last season after returning from an NFL suspension and had a minor misstep this winter.
Hunt is a restricted free agent and can negotiate with other teams about a contract. If he reaches an agreement elsewhere, the Browns can match any offer. If the team decides not to match the offer, Cleveland would receive a second-round draft pick from the team that signs him.
Given his background — Hunt was banned eight games by the league for two physical altercations when he played for Kansas City — it would be risky for a team to take a chance on him. The Cleveland native is comfortable with the Browns, who have continued to support him throughout his suspension and following a disturbing incident in January, when police found marijuana in his car after a speeding stop.
With the league conducting business despite nationwide shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Browns made another early splash in free agency by moving toward a contract with two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper, a person familiar with the team’s plans told The Associated Press.
Hooper was one of the main free agency targets for Cleveland, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because teams can’t officially announce deals until Wednesday.
NFL Network reported the sides have agreed to terms on a package that will make Hooper the NFL’s highest-paid tight end.
In adding the 25-year-old Hooper, the Browns will have another offensive playmaker for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who struggled in his second NFL season. Hooper can a dependable option to go along with star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and running back Nick Chubb.
New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski preferred to run two-tight end formations during his one season as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. Hooper could be paired with 2017 first-round pick David Njoku, who missed most of last season with a broken wrist suffered in Week 2.
Hunt signed with Cleveland last February, two months after he was released by Kansas City. The Chiefs said the 24-year-old Hunt had lied to them about two incidents, including one in which he kicked and shoved a woman during an argument in a Cleveland hotel.
He came back after missing the first eight games and was used primarily as a blocker for Chubb, who finished with 1,494 yards. Hunt rushed for 179 yards and scored two touchdowns. He also caught 37 passes for 285 yards and a TD.
The Browns also released veteran safety Morgan Burnett. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon last season and missed the final six games.
Cleveland also tendered exclusive tags to free agents Pharoah Brown, Dontrell Hilliard and KhaDarel Hodge.
With more than $60 million of salary-cap space, new Browns general manager Andrew Berry was expected to be active in free agency, with tight end and offensive tackle among his priorities.