KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kareem Hunt went from the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice field to looking for a job in about six hours, a spectacular fall for the NFL’s reigning rushing champion.
The Pro Bowl running back had been preparing for Sunday’s road game against the Oakland Raiders when a months-old video surfaced online. The footage from a Cleveland hotel security camera showed Hunt shoving and kicking a woman, with police ultimately responding. No charges were filed.
The Chiefs immediately sent Hunt home as the TMZ video rippled across social media. An organization that prides itself on providing second chances said in a statement late Friday it had released the 23-year-old star. The team was traveling Saturday.
The NFL had no comment Friday night beyond saying Hunt was on the commissioner’s exempt list, meaning he can’t play or attend games while the league investigates.
The question now for both the Chiefs and Hunt is simple: What’s next?
The Chiefs (9-2) are barreling toward the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and the loss of their leading rusher is substantial. Hunt already had run for more than 800 yards and had 14 total touchdowns, helping Kansas City form one of the league’s most dynamic offenses.
His ability to churn out yards on the ground helped the Chiefs put away several games. His ability to catch passes out of the backfield had been just as useful.
Yet the falloff to Spencer Ware isn’t that significant.
The Chiefs’ backup was the unquestioned starter heading into last season, even after the team made Hunt their third-round pick. It wasn’t until Ware — whose skill set closely mirrors that of Hunt — went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason that the rookie took over.
“There was a question whether he would be able to come back from that injury. It was a pretty tough injury to come back from,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said recently. “The last couple weeks he has played good football. You can see where he is more confident each week here.”
The Chiefs are also confident in backups Damien Williams and Darrel Williams. And with a soft schedule down the stretch, including two games against the Raiders, there is plenty of time for their offense to adjust to life without Hunt in the backfield.
So that is what’s next for the Chiefs. What happens to Hunt?
The Chiefs and the NFL knew what happened in February in Cleveland, and the organization spoke to Hunt on several occasions before handling discipline internally. But neither the team nor the league had seen the video before it became public Friday.
The NFL made multiple attempts to obtain it, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. The hotel informed the league that corporate policy allowed the video to be given only to law enforcement.
The NFL then contacted Cleveland police, the person said. Police declined to provide the video. Police and hotel officials have not commented.
The video showed Hunt lunging toward a woman and several others in a hotel hallway, and the player being restrained several times before knocking two people down. Two police reports were filed in which each person accuses the other: Hunt is listed as the suspect in one; a woman, Abigail Ottinger, is the suspect in the other.
In its grainy and graphic footage, the video brought a new dimension to developments, showing that what Hunt had told the Chiefs was not the case. The team said he was “not truthful in those discussions.”
The matter brought immediate comparisons to the video of Ravens running back Ray Rice punching a woman in an elevator, which ultimately led to a long legal saga that ended with him never playing in the NFL again.
The big difference between Rice and Hunt, though, is this: Rice was on the downward side of his career while Hunt was on the ascent.
Being on the exempt list does not prevent another team from taking a chance on a player. That was the underlined when the Washington Redskins signed linebacker Reuben Foster, who had been cut last week after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.
The Redskins faced harsh public criticism, and there will no doubt be a similar outcry if a team signs Hunt. But balancing such opposition against the benefits of a young star in his prime is a delicate decision for team executives.
Hunt issued a brief apology late Friday, a small first step toward getting another chance. But as the Chiefs get ready to play in Oakland, Hunt will be watching on television. There are many more steps before Hunt takes the field again, if it ever happens.
Meanwhile, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who sometimes went over the top in his praise of quarterbacks in his old job as an analyst at ESPN, admires second-year Kansas City star Patrick Mahomes on an even different level.
“His overall skill set is sickening. It really is,” Gruden said. “He’s double-jointed. He can throw the ball from any platform possible. Running to his left, fading backward. He can get out of trouble. I compliment everybody, I’ve been accused of that, but this guy has off-the-chart arm talent. Skill level is unbelievable.
“He has a playing style that reminds me of (Brett) Favre. He’s a young Favre. I think that’s why Andy Reid went and got him. He won’t quit on any play. He makes a lot of plays when there’s nothing there. I don’t have time to talk about him anymore.”
Led by Mahomes’ 37 touchdown passes, the third most ever through 11 games, the Chiefs have been a nearly unstoppable force on offense. They rank second in the NFL with 404 points and is on pace to become the first team since at least 1960 to average more than 7.0 yards per play.
But everything hasn’t been perfect for Mahomes, who committed five turnovers in Kansas City’s last game, a 54-51 loss to the Rams on Nov. 19.
“Every experience, bad or good, you have to learn from,” Mahomes said. “You take the positives. We had a lot of successful plays and successful things happen in that game, but you have to find ways to win them in the end.”
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FAST START, SLOW FINISH
One thing the Raiders have done well this year is start games fast. Their 34 points on the opening drive rank fifth best in the NFL this season. What’s happened after that has been the problem. Oakland has the third-worst offense the rest of the game, averaging just 1.32 points per drive after that.
Oakland was burned last week by a poorly placed punt by rookie Johnny Townsend that led to a 70-yard touchdown return by Baltimore’s Cyrus Jones. Townsend, a fifth-round pick, has struggled this year, ranking 30th out of 32 qualifying punters in net average (37.7 yards), last in gross average (43.5 yards), and last in percentage of punts downed inside the 20-yard line (18.4 percent). That could be an issue against Tyreek Hill, who leads the NFL with four punt return TDs since entering the league in 2016.
“We have to do a better job than we did last week,” Gruden said. “The one punt return we’ve given up, we didn’t hit our landmark. We gave them a low hanging punt that gave him a two-way go, and that’s hard to defend. If we do that against this guy, we’ll have very little chance to win this game. This guy is really unique. Tyreek Hill, he’s a unique skill set. You have to limit his opportunities every way you can.”
The relationship between Gruden and Reid goes back decades to when they spent three years together as offensive assistants on Mike Holmgren’s staff in Green Bay from 1992-94. That’s where the two really started to build the foundation of the offenses they’d eventually run for years as successful head coaches in the NFL.
“We were both young and we were able to learn a ton from a great head coach,” Reid recalled. “Jon and I spent a lot of time together, along with Steve Mariucci, we were the youngest guys on the staff. We all kind of bonded and did our thing. We did a lot of the go-fer work, which we loved. Great learning experience and great foundation to build on.”