Chris Johnson Era Over in Tennessee

chris-johnson-titans-releasedIn a move that’s been rumored for months, the Tennessee Titans finally released their former starting running back, Chris Johnson. The Titans star was due $8 million in 2014, as part of the four-year, $53.5 million contract extention that he signed in 2011. So Tennessee wanted to dump Johnson before dedicating a large portion of their salary cap to him. Plus, offseason workouts with new head coach Ken Whisenhunt begin on Monday, so it’s likely that they wanted CJ2K gone by then.

Whisenhunt may have foreshadowed Johnson’s impending release back at the NFL Combine. When asked what he thought Johnson had left in the tank, the former Cardinals coach offered this bland response:

I can’t speak about what he has left in the tank, you never know about that, I know I see a player who is there every Sunday. He’s had a lot of success in the league, he has been to Pro Bowls, and you have a lot of respect for that. He practiced every day, from what I’ve seen of the records last year, and he played in a lot of games. He’s been a good football player.

Given his reluctance to say anything alluding to Johnson’s future with the team, you have to figure that Whisenhunt and the organization had other plans for a running back. So why keep Johnson one month after the free agency period started, when his prospects of getting a good deal are now diminished?

chris-johnson-titans-released-1Perhaps the Titans are still bitter about Johnson’s contract holdout before the 2011 season started? Maybe they’re further incensed that they paid him $8 million in 2012 and $9 million in 2013, all along expecting that magical 2009 season to resurface?

Speaking of which, the bar was set high for Johnson after he broke the single-season record for yards from scrimmage, previously held by Marshall Faulk. In the ’09 season, he rushed for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, adding another 503 receiving yards.

To hear fans, broadcasters and fantasy football owners talk afterward, you’d have thought that Johnson completely gave up after setting the scrimmage yards record. But looking at the numbers, he was still a pretty good back for the Titans, never once dipping under 1,000 rushing yards in his six seasons there.

However, he was only an above-average runner over the past three seasons. In 2011, he tallied 1,047 yards and four TD’s on the ground, maintaining a fairly low 4.0 YPC average. 2012 saw Johnson improve after he generated 1,243 rushing yards (4.5 YPC) and six touchdowns. But 2013 was another downer as he turned in 1,077 rushing yards (3.9 YPC) and six TD’s. The 3.9 YPC average and Johnson’s inconsistently is ultimately what made him expendable as the team looks to restart under Whisenhunt.

So where can we expect to see the six-year veteran suiting up next. He’ll no doubt find a prominent role somewhere, given that he still has flashes of the record-setting 4.24 forty speed he showed at the 2008 NFL Combine. Case in point, he busted a 94-yard touchdown run two years ago on Monday Night Football.

chris-johnson-titans-released-2According to a recent CBS New York report, the New York Jets were inquiring about a trade before the Titans released Johnson. NFL insiders still expect the Jets to be pursuing the 28-year-old through free agency. With the oft-injured Chris Ivory as their current feature back, they’d like to add a more durable player like Johnson, who’s only missed one game in his entire career – a rarity for NFL running backs, especially one that weighs 203 pounds.

As CBS NY points out, New York also makes sense because they’re $25 million under the cap and can afford to spend some money on Johnson. Even if he just splits carries with Ivory, this would meet the Jets’ philosophy in 2014, which is to promote competition at every position.

Assuming the Jets and Johnson can’t come to terms, he’ll certainly be an attractive prospect to other NFL teams that are looking to shore up the running back spot.

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