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The View Beyond Pluto: Off-Field Drama No Longer a Three Ring Circus for Browns

The Browns traded wide receiver Duke Johnson, Jr. after he publicly said he wanted out.
The Browns traded wide receiver Duke Johnson, Jr. after he publicly said he wanted out.

The new-look Cleveland Browns are still dealing with the same old off-field drama. But WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says one thing has changed: How the team is handling it. 

Duke Johnson, Jr.

Last week the Browns traded running back Duke Johnson, Jr. to the Houston Texas for a third round draft pick. In June 2018, Johnson signed a three-year, $15.6 million extension with the Browns. But in the off-season last year, Johnson made it clear he wanted a trade after the team signed running back Kareem Hunt, who's serving an eight-game suspension. 

Pluto said Johnson's public outcry didn't sit well with Baker Mayfield. "I was there that day. Johnson went on for about 20 minutes. Mayfield is standing there, hands on hips, staring at Johnson. Then when Mayfield was asked about it, he said 'Self-inflicted wounds.' At that point, I felt like they were going to have to do something here."

As for the fallout from losing Johnson, Pluto said the team has several other options. "There's this guy Dontrell Hilliard who gets to be the backup while they wait forKareem Hunt and meanwhile you've got a Pro Bowl guy in Nick Chubb."

And Pluto said the Browns got a good deal with a third-round pick. "Running backs are so de-valued in the NFL when it comes to trading, that a third-round pick will be the highest any team has received in a trade for any running back since the Browns traded Trent Richardson in 2013 to the Colts for the first-round pick." 

Antonio Callaway

On Friday, the Browns announced that wide receiver Antonio Callaway was handed a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Callaway has a history of problems. He was suspended his final season at Florida for a credit card scam. He also had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction in 2017 and a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine in 2018.

Pluto also says Callaway didn't show up to training camp in shape.

"This is not like Josh Gordon holding the franchise hostage because he's the best player. At best, Callaway was the third-best receiver on the team. When you have Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, you're not holding your breath about Antonio Callaway. He's gonna serve his four games and meantime you have a bunch of young guys like D.J. Montgomery, Derrick Willies and Jaelen Strong. The coaches love these guys."

A minor sideshow

Pluto says the team under first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens is handling the off-the-field drama much differently. 

"This is just a minor sideshow. Before it would have been a three-ring circus," Pluto said.

And Pluto says this training camp has a much different look.

"They had a coach named Mike Pettine and you'd go out there and about 15 to 20 guys would be in t-shirts and shorts riding exercise bikes. It's like they're training for the Tour de France. It was ridiculous. Freddie Kitchens has rules. He doesn't want guys playing with pulled hamstrings or whatever. But you're wearing your helmets and pads and you're standing there." 


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Amanda Rabinowitz
Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. Her days begin before the sun comes up as the local anchor for NPR’s Morning Edition, which airs on WKSU each weekday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio’s sports scene.