Does Eric Bieniemy/Kareem Hunt reunion make sense for Commanders?
By James Dudko
Free-agent running back Kareem Hunt reuniting with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy makes perfect sense for the Washington Commanders in 2023.
Can the Washington Commanders ever have enough quality running backs? Probably not when head coach Ron Rivera wants his team to be defined by its ability to win on the ground.
Probably not when new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is a former NFL running back with a solid track record for developing talent at the position. Both of those things make Kareem Hunt a signing the Commanders must consider during the dog days of 2023 free agency.
Hunt and Bieniemy worked together with the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2017-18. The relationship was initially a huge success when he led the league with 1,327 yards rushing. He also scored eight touchdowns on the ground and added 53 catches for 455 receiving yards and three scores in the passing game.
Commanders should considering signing Kareem Hunt
That same dual-threat output is why the Commanders need Hunt this year, even though he's never matched the heights reached with the Chiefs. The 27-year-old has spent the past four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, who no longer believe he has the speed to scare defenses, according to Cleveland.com's Terry Pluto.
Hunt may be a step slower entering his seventh season in the pros, but the Commanders don't need him for a track meet. Instead, Bieniemy can take advantage of his former pupil's versatility and nose for the end zone.
Those qualities have been used in concert with the Browns' leading workhorse, Nick Chubb, and Hunt could expect to play another supporting role for the Commanders. Brian Robinson Jr. will be the go-to guy between the tackles in his second year, Rivera still thinks Antonio Gibson has a future, while sixth-round draft pick Chris Rodriguez Jr. is a prospect Bieniemy admires.
Hunt being reduced to cameos won't be a problem if Bieniemy makes full use of his skills as a pass-catcher. This is a back who can flex into the slot or split out as a traditional wide receiver, just like he did on this play against the Baltimore Ravens from 2020, highlighted by Ian Hartitz of Pro Football Focus.
A prolific receiver out of the backfield can be an asset in an offense set to miss J.D. McKissic's sure hands and ability to amass yards after the catch. The recently released back was also a useful runner near the goal line, but Hunt has never had a problem finding paydirt.
He's scored 48 touchdowns in the regular season, 31 rushing and 17 receiving, while adding four more scores in the playoffs.
Hunt's the right replacement for McKissic, but he can be an upgrade for any back on the depth chart in another area. Namely, as a blocker, where the 5-foot-11, 216-pound player excels.
He showcased his oomph by clearing out a linebacker for this quarterback keeper by Baker Mayfield against the Pittsburgh Steelers, highlighted by Pluto's colleague Dan Labbe.
Now picture this play, but with Sam Howell executing a designed bootleg behind Hunt's block. That's a potentially punishing combination for defenses to try and counter.
Hunt spent a lot of time lining up at fullback in front of Chubb, so he's used to playing lead in the running game but is also an effective pass-protector. The latter is an area where the Commanders have struggled in an NFC East loaded with formidable pressure defenses.
Here's an example of Dallas Cowboys' All-Pro Micah Parsons deleting Gibson in the pocket, per Mark Bullock of The Athletic.
Parsons isn't going anywhere and nor are the Philadelphia Eagles, owners of a deep and relentless front that is loaded with ex-Georgia stalwarts and Haason Reddick. Then there's the New York Giants and a pressure-crazed defense called by coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale, who coached a unit that blitzed a league-high 39.7 percent last season.
Howell won't survive long without a backfield minder who can keep him clean. It's one more reason why the Commanders should offer Hunt a cost-effective, short-term contract. Another reason is Gibson's a free agent in 2024.
Having $2.43 million worth of salary-cap space is enough for the Commanders to work out a deal with Hunt that suits both parties.