It was a matter of when, not if, the NFL would discipline Kareem Hunt in connection with the controversial running back's highly publicized off-field transgressions.
The punishment came down Friday on the former Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl selection who signed a one-year contract with his hometown Browns on Feb. 11.
Hunt, 23, has been suspended without pay for the first eight regular-season games of the 2019 season for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy, the league announced. He will be allowed to practice with the team this offseason and play in preseason games.
Browns General Manager John Dorsey gave Hunt a chance at a comeback despite knowing he would be forced to sit out a significant portion of the 2019 season.
When Dorsey was the GM of the Chiefs in 2017, he drafted Hunt in the third round out of the University of Toledo. As a rookie, Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards.
Yet the Chiefs couldn't justify keeping Hunt, not after TMZ.com released a surveillance video in which he shoved and kicked a woman in the hallway outside his apartment at the Metropolitan at The 9 in downtown Cleveland. The Chiefs had previous knowledge of the February 2018 incident, but Hunt admitted he lied to them about what happened. The security footage revealed there was more to his version of the story, and the Chiefs cut him Nov. 30.
Hunt also had been accused of getting into physical altercations with men in June at the Bay Lodging Resort in Put-in-Bay and in January 2018 at a nightclub in Kansas City.
However, the NFL only cited the incidents in downtown Cleveland and Put-in-Bay in its announcement of Hunt's suspension. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com the league also investigated the Kansas City nightclub incident but said there will be "no further discipline" stemming from it. None of the three incidents has resulted in Hunt being charged.
The NFL announced the suspension with the following statement:
"Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns was notified today that he has been suspended without pay for the Browns' first eight regular season games for violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy in connection with physical altercations at his residence in Cleveland last February and at a resort in Ohio last June.
"Hunt was placed on the Commissioner Exempt list on November 30 and was released by his former club, the Kansas City Chiefs, that same day. The findings followed a detailed investigation by the NFL, which included reviewing available law enforcement records, video and electronic communications, interviews with numerous witnesses, and multiple interviews with Hunt.
"Hunt has advised the league office that he accepts responsibility for his conduct and the discipline that has been imposed. He has committed to take advantage of available resources to help him grow personally and as a member of the Cleveland community, and to live up to his obligations as an NFL player.
"The eight-game suspension will take effect as of the final roster reduction on August 31. Hunt will be eligible to play in the Browns' ninth regular season game."
Hunt's agent, Dan Saffron, also released a statement saying he supports his client's decision to accept the suspension instead of appealing.
A Willoughby South High School graduate, Hunt will lose $62,941 for each of the eight games he misses. In other words, he'll forfeit $503,529 of the $1.1 million in base salary and bonuses on his deal. There is no guaranteed money in his contract.
Still, Hunt has an opportunity.
"I want to again apologize for my actions last year," Hunt said in a prepared statement. "I know that my behavior hurt a lot of people, and I again apologize to them. I respect the league’s decision on discipline, and I appreciate the time I spent with Commissioner [Roger] Goodell last week. I’m grateful for my time with the Browns over the last month and thankful to all the people in the organization that have welcomed me. I also appreciate all of the support I received from my union through this process. My commitment to earning the trust of the league, my teammates, the organization and this community through my actions will continue, and I understand there is a lot of hard work ahead of me before I’m able to fully return to playing the game I love.”
Dorsey has a long history of giving troubled players second chances, and he couldn't resist the temptation of Hunt's talent.
"We’re all appalled by it," Dorsey said last month of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman. "It is an egregious act. We all understand that. But after doing our research — extensive research — analyzing the situation, we came to the conclusion that, you know what, I am willing to help a man on a second chance moving forward to be a better person, and that’s all you can ask for in society, and that’s all I’m trying to do."
Dorsey also said Hunt would be on a zero-tolerance policy with the Browns and by no means does signing him ensure he’ll stick with the team. NFL Network has reported Hunt began undergoing alcohol and anger-management counseling after the Chiefs released him. Dorsey confirmed Hunt submitted to professional counseling.
"He’s been in the building, and I know that he’s really done a nice job of being committed and of doing that work so that he can be the best version of himself," Dorsey said of Hunt on Thursday during a conference call. "I know he’s been diligently working on that."
The length of Hunt's suspension should allow him to collect a season toward free agency this year.
If he's on the active roster for at least six games, he’ll earn an accrued season and become eligible for restricted free agency in March 2020. If he’s on the active roster but falls short of the six-game threshold, he’ll be an exclusive rights free agent next year. The Browns would control his rights next year either way.
In 27 career games, Hunt has rushed for 2,151 yards and 15 touchdowns on 453 carries (4.7 average) and caught 79 passes for 833 yards and 10 TDs.
Hunt's arrival made veteran running back Duke Johnson expendable. Hunt's suspension is scheduled to end around the NFL trade deadline in the fall, but Johnson might not be on the roster that long.
"[Other teams] call every day about certain players," Dorsey said Thursday when asked about the Browns reportedly shopping Johnson and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. "Right now, those two guys are Cleveland Browns. They both are really good football players, but teams call around to [discuss] a lot of different scenarios all of the time."
As long as Hunt doesn't get into more trouble before his suspension ends, he will give the Browns a young star midway through the season to pair with running back Nick Chubb, who led the team with 996 rushing yards as a rookie second-round pick last year.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.