BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Something stopped Kareem Hunt from signing elsewhere in free agency.
There were other choices for him as a free agent, quality teams in good cities. But the running back felt there was just one place for him.
On Wednesday, Hunt's patience paid off.
“It worked out, obviously,” he said on a Zoom call with reporters. “I’m right up the street from my house. I guess it worked out in ways that I can’t even explain.”
In a strange twist, Hunt returned to his hometown Browns, who didn't re-sign him in the offseason but were desperate to add a quality running back after star Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury Monday night at Pittsburgh.
Hunt spent the past four years playing alongside and behind Chubb, giving Cleveland one of the NFL's top backfield tandems. And while he's thrilled, Hunt wishes his latest homecoming was under different circumstances.
“That one hurt," said Hunt, who couldn't bear the sight of Chubb being helped up and carted off. “I hate seeing that happen to one of my brothers, and the guy that I care so much about and would go to war for any time of the day.”
The Browns signed Hunt to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. Hunt’s deal includes numerous incentives, said the person who spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because the team is not making details of the contract public.
After a turbulent 2022 season, Hunt's time in Cleveland came to an apparent end when the team elected not to retain the 28-year-old. He made free agency visits to a few other teams while holding out hope the Browns would call.
Because he already knows the offense so well, Hunt can step right in and will likely play Sunday when the Browns (1-1) host the Tennessee Titans (1-1).
“It’s a big deal,” coach Kevin Stefanski said of Hunt's familiarity. “When you add players that are free agents, often times you have to ramp them up and get them ready to play. And we have done that. You can do that in this case. There’s obviously some newness that Kareem is learning but he can pick up things very quickly.”
Hunt's return is also providing something of a morale lift for the Browns, just days after Chubb's devastating injury.
“A Brown through and through,” linebacker and captain Anthony Walker Jr. said. "He understands what we need. He’s a boost of energy. As soon as he walked through the door, a lot of guys got excited when they seen him.
“A great teammate, obviously a great runner, a great catcher out the backfield, he’s definitely going to help us in a huge way this year.”
Hunt will back up Jerome Ford, who came off the bench and ran for 106 yards on Monday after Chubb got hurt. Stefanski reiterated that Ford, a second-year back from Cincinnati, will be Cleveland's starter and feature back, and that's fine by Hunt.
“I’m willing to come in and do whatever it takes just to help win,” he said. “My biggest thing is help win the Super Bowl.”
Chubb's surgery has not yet been scheduled to repair torn ligaments from a low hit delivered by Pittsburgh safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. It's the same knee the four-time Pro Bowler had reconstructed in 2015 when he was hurt at Georgia.
The team placed Chubb on season-ending injured reserve.
In his first four seasons with Cleveland, Hunt rushed for 1,874 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was equally effective as a pass catcher, totaling 211 receptions for 1,806 yards.
Hunt led the league in rushing as a rookie in 2017 for Kansas City. The Chiefs cut him after a video surfaced of him pushing a woman in the hallway of a hotel in downtown Cleveland.
The Browns scooped up Hunt, drawing criticism for the signing.
He was suspended by the NFL for the first eight games in 2019.
Last season, Hunt and the Browns were at odds over a contract extension, and he drew the ire of Cleveland coaches by sitting out drills in training camp. Hunt wound up playing all 17 games, but wasn't as productive.
Now that he's back, Hunt said there was no need to mend fences.
“We get along,” he said. “I have mad respect for everybody in this building and it was never to that point. So it was good to see everybody, talk over expectations and things that I can help and just help this team win.”
NOTES: WR Amari Cooper (groin, shoulder), DE Za'Darius Smith (ankle, thigh) and CB Greg Newsome II (elbow) were kept out of practice.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl