Kareem Hunt didn't hesitate at the thought of staying home for a few more years.
Hunt, who was born in Elyria and starred at Willoughby South High School, has spent the last several months preparing for his second season in Cleveland. Ohio has been home turf for most of Hunt's football career, which took off as a star running back in Toledo, but he had a big decision looming as he entered his final year before becoming an unrestricted free agent: test the NFL market and look for a new home after the season, or stay with the Browns and forge a deeper future in his home state.
He happily made his decision Wednesday when he signed a two-year contract extension to play in Cleveland through 2022. Home is where Hunt has been happiest, so when EVP of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry offered Hunt a fresh contract and a chance to stay in Ohio, he picked up the pen and signed it.
"I'm happy I'm home," Hunt said Wednesday in a video call with local reporters. "I really just want to go out there and win and do everything in my power to bring a championship to Cleveland. I've got my family here and everybody who I love and care about."
The Browns on Tuesday signed Hunt to a two-year contract extension, keeping him in Cleveland through the 2022 season. Hunt, who was born in Elyria and starred at Willoughby South High School, was set to play on the last year of his contract in 2020 but now has the long-term security he and his hometown team have been collectively seeking.
Hunt returned home in the 2019 offseason after three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, who drafted him with a third-round pick in 2017. Hunt quickly placed himself among the top tier of running backs by leading the league with 1,327 yards in his rookie season, and he continued to demolish opposing defenses with his ability to run or catch the ball for chunk plays.
When Hunt arrived in Cleveland, however, he needed to focus on correcting off-the-field issues to ensure his NFL career would stay on track. After serving an eight-game suspension at the start of last season, Hunt returned to the backfield with the same talent he showed with the Chiefs.
This time, however, he was doing it with his hometown team. He managed to finish second on the Browns in rushing yards and third in receptions despite playing in eight games, and his return provided the offense with a noticeable jolt alongside the already commanding play of Nick Chubb.
"I wouldn't mind playing for the Browns for a long time," Hunt said back in June. "I think we can do something special here. I want to get that Super Bowl feeling and I believe we can do it here in my hometown. That would be bigger than anything, for me. That would bring a championship to Cleveland, especially—I have been a fan my whole life. I have been with Cleveland my whole life."
With Hunt secured for this season and beyond, the Browns are set to have one of the most powerful running back rooms in football. Chubb, who finished second in the league in rushing yards last season, was already a consistent contributor to Cleveland's offense before Hunt's arrival. When Hunt joined the Browns for the final half of last season, though, the production went even higher — the duo averaged 159 total yards per game last season and created a package almost impossible for a defense to completely cover.
Having two No. 1 running backs in the same room can be difficult for an offense to adequately utilize. Talented players usually clamor for a fair share of the football and enough opportunities to put their skills on full display, but with Hunt and Chubb, the mantra has always been about doing what's best for the team. The two have formed a tight bond since Hunt came to Cleveland, and their relationship — and gaudy career stats — figure to only grow higher after Hunt's contract extension.
"I'm excited about that," Chubb said. "I get to play ball with Kareem for however many more years we got, and that's a great thing for me, this team and for this city. He's been a great person since he's been here, and he's one of my great friends on the team."
The Browns felt they were much better with Hunt in their backfield. But for Hunt, the signature on the new contract was just as much about his love for staying at home as it was for his fit on the team.
Cleveland has always been home for Hunt. Through 2022, it'll be his football home, too.
"I'm just grateful," Hunt said. "I thank everybody in the building from top to bottom. It's an honor to be here, especially in my hometown."