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As trade decision looms, Browns insist a role is in place for running back Duke Johnson

Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.

Takeaways from John Dorsey’s pre-draft press conference …

If you want to take John Dorsey’s word for every answer, the Browns have no intention of honoring Duke Johnson’s trade request.

Dorsey has demonstrated, however, a shrewdness at making player trades. Case in point was when he announced the Browns would be releasing Josh Gordon last year. The intent was to drum up trade interest in the problematic wide receiver. Dorsey wound up enticing the New England Patriots to give up a fifth-round pick for Gordon.

On Thursday, Dorsey continued to indicate the Browns have a legitimate role reserved for Johnson, who is absent from their voluntary program after informing the Browns his desire to be traded. Dorsey’s insistent stance could be geared to upping the price of a trade for Johnson.

The risk in trading Johnson is short-handing the position group while Kareem Hunt is still in the process of earning trust as a dependable participant. Hunt’s league suspension will keep him off the regular-season roster until the ninth game Nov. 10 against the Buffalo Bills.

“I continually keep telling you all that Duke is a very talented football player,” Dorsey said. “We see a lot of stuff for Duke moving forward into the future with regards to him. He is a member of this organization moving forward.”

Dorsey added that the coaching staff views Johnson as “a vital part of this offense ... he is a good playmaker.”

Dorsey confirmed that Johnson has not appeared in the building during the voluntary offseason program. He said that he has been in touch with Johnson’s agent and that coach Freddie Kitchens and Johnson have communicated via text. Left unsaid is that Johnson isn’t talking to them.

The key dates in the Johnson saga begin with the draft next weekend.

Reports out of Philadelphia indicate the Eagles are still interested in Johnson as a third-down back. It’s possible the Eagles’ initial trade offer fell short of what Dorsey wants. If so, that could change if the Eagles are unable to find a suitable third-down back in the draft.

The next key date is the mandatory Browns minicamp on June 4-6. Johnson would be subject to up to roughly $85,000 in fines if he missed all three days of minicamp.

Where’s Odell?: Speaking of offseason no-shows, Dorsey offered no clue on when receiver Odell Beckham Jr. would return to the club. Beckham made a point of showing up on the program's first day April 1, but departed by the evening and has stayed away during the voluntary workouts.

Dorsey treaded the fine line of expressing desire for Beckham to come in while not violating the CBA, or Beckham’s trust, by pressuring him to report.

“Where I stand is that I think any time that you have, as an organization, you have a first-year coaching staff and you are installing new offenses and new defenses, it is good to be here,” Dorsey said. “But let’s remember, the CBA created this to where it is a voluntary situation.

“I think he is an experienced enough player that he will understand what he has to do to put himself in the best position and put this team in the best position. That is how I look at this.”

No. 49 chatter: Dorsey continued to talk up Jeffery Simmons, the Mississippi State defensive tackle whose ACL surgery in January – and an assault against a woman as a high school senior – make his status perhaps the most cloudy in the draft.

There is still a lot of speculation that Simmons will be taken prior to the Browns’ first pick at No. 49. Dorsey’s comments indicated he would strongly consider Simmons in the second round.

“He is a phenomenal football player,” Dorsey said. “Unfortunately, he had an ACL injury recently in January. If he was there at 49, you may think about it, but you have to see what is best for the organization moving forward.”

Dorsey has done a lot of research on Simmons’ character, which included a face-to-face visit in team headquarters.

“What we are going to do if there is a possibility that he is there, we are going to sit and talk about it as an organization and make the best decision moving forward and make sure that everybody is comfortable with that decisions moving forward, if it happens,” he said.

Brownie bits: Dorsey admitted a desire to find a return specialist, and though aide Alonzo Highsmith led the charge to sign Damon Sheehy-Guiseppe, a JUCO phenom who hasn’t played football in two years, the kid is no lock to be the answer. “Yeah, it would be a great story if it happens, but he has to come and show that he deserves to be here,” he said …

With eight picks and a roster in its best shape in decades, Dorsey wouldn’t be averse to trading some for better slots in future drafts. “I think that is one of those situations where let’s see when we get to the moment of the draft and see how it begins to unfold and watch that draft board begin to unfold as we speak. If we feel that we would like to acquire some extra picks going down the road, maybe we do something like that,” he said …

Dorsey was predictably non-committal about moving from No. 49 into the first round. “You always do your due diligence just to see what is the possibility of going up or what is the possibility of going back,” he said.