Legend has it when Mitch Trubisky and Kareem Hunt went head to head in a peewee meeting of future NFL stars in the Mentor (Ohio) Youth Football Association, they combined for 19 touchdowns.
They won't be joining forces in the Bears backfield this year as the Browns announced Monday that they signed the troubled Hunt to a one-year contract. So a second chance for Hunt, who was captured on video shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel last year, has come from his former general manager instead of his former offensive coordinator.
The Bears talked openly last month about the possibility of opening the Halas Hall doors to Hunt. At the end-of-season chat held by coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, the pair didn't shy away from the possibility of pursuing Hunt. They spoke about it so openly the wheels were clearly turning in the building with the NFL's leading rusher from 2017 on the street and the Bears driven to shake up the depth chart at the position.
Nagy even volunteered that he had recently called Hunt to inquire how he was doing. It was a checkup on Hunt's personal life, not a recruiting pitch, and Nagy said he had no issues with Hunt when he coached him in Kansas City, calling him a "really, really good kid."
Just because Hunt is off the market doesn't mean the Bears will not actively seek more firepower for their backfield after Jordan Howard plodded to 935 yards last season, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. They can do so without having to wonder if the phone will ring in the middle of the night with news of trouble for Hunt.
"My relationship and interaction with Kareem since 2016 in college was an important part of this decision-making process, but we then did extensive due diligence with many individuals, including clinical professionals, to have a better understanding of the person he is today and whether it was prudent to sign him," Browns general manager John Dorsey said in a statement.
Dorsey was the GM in Kansas City when the Chiefs drafted Hunt in the third round in 2017 and he's a personnel man with a track record for taking chances.
"There were two important factors: one is that Kareem took full responsibility for his egregious actions and showed true remorse," Dorsey added. "And secondly, just as importantly, he is undergoing and is committed to necessary professional treatment and a plan that has been clearly laid out."
Hunt is not expected to play for the Browns in September and maybe not in October. He wasn't going to be ready to roll for the Bears at the start of the season either as he has been on the commissioner's exempt list since being waived by the Chiefs in December. The NFL's ongoing investigation of Hunt includes two other incidents following his rookie season in 2017.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the Super Bowl that he expected the league's inquiry to end soon and that a "tremendous amount of progress" has been made recently, meaning a potential suspension for Hunt should be announced in short order.
Hunt was a dynamic performer from the start of his rookie season when he led the league with 1,327 rushing yards, adding 53 receptions for 455 yards. He had 824 rushing yards and seven touchdowns with seven receiving touchdowns in 11 games last season before TMZ released video of his violence against the woman. The Chiefs moved quickly to release him, saying Hunt had not been truthful with them about the incident.
"We're not even there yet," Pace said last month when asked about pursuing Hunt. "I mean, I know what he is as a player obviously from watching. Matt knows more about him as a person. We're not even close to that point."
The Bears swung and missed the last time they offered a second chance to a player with violence in his past. Two months after signing defensive end Ray McDonald in March 2015, he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and child endangerment and the Bears promptly canned him.
The gamble on McDonald didn't make sense. He was an aging player who knew the defensive scheme but wasn't going to be a difference-maker for a team in the early stages of revamping the roster. Hunt could be a difference-maker for the Browns provided his actions back his words and he has learned from his mistakes. He could have been a difference-maker for the Bears, maybe as soon as the second half of the 2019 season. Hunt's presence would have forced the Bears to answer tough questions from fans and sponsors, but that's a non-issue now.
The Bears are short on draft picks — their first pick will come in the third round — and they likely won't invest the big money it would take to add a player like running back Le'Veon Bell. But with shrewd scouting, the kind that helped them find Howard in the fifth round in 2016, they should be able to identify multiple options that add more juice to a backfield that already has Tarik Cohen.
Howard remains an affordable option going into the final year of his rookie contract. He's on the books for $2.045 million after achieving the proven-performance escalator in his contract. But the Bears can go cheaper with a draft pick and find a running back with skills to be a better fit in the offense.
Meanwhile, Hunt heads home with the Browns. Cleveland is 25 minutes from his hometown of Willoughby, Ohio, which is adjacent to Trubisky's hometown of Mentor. As a youth football player, Hunt was playing for the Buckeyes when he reportedly rushed for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 63-59 win over Trubisky's Falcons. Trubisky was a running back then and he didn't have a bad day either, scoring nine touchdowns.
It's easy to understand why the Bears could have tried to put the stars together. It's easier to understand why not signing Hunt was a better move.