Dec 26

CJ-NO-WAY: Sizing up Chris Johnson’s eventual arrival on the 2014 RB market

Titans RB Chris Johnson is soon to be Former-Titans RB Chris Johnson. He answered “no way” when asked if he’d take a pay cut this off-season, and Tennessee will almost surely cut CJ loose.

After Sunday, Johnson will end up having played 3 years and having collected $31 million of the 6 year/ $56 million extension he signed in September of 2011.

What does this mean for Johnson’s future? Once released, he should immediately become the most desirable back in a weak 2014 UFA RB market, which includes an aging MJD, the talented yet injury-prone Darren McFadden, the Giants’ Andre Brown and the Colts’ Donald Brown.

With 950 rushing yards, Johnson needs 50 yards in Sunday’s finale to reach the 1,000-yard mark for his 6th straight season.  If Johnson gets his usual workload, he should reach this feat.  Yet his usual workload (he’s averaging 16.8 carries/game this season) will put him at 269 carries for the year—an average of 288 carries per year in his 6 years as a Titan.  While he’ll still be 28 on next opening day, that’s a lot of tread on his tires.

Reggie Bush, the crop of last year’s free agent RB class, signed a 4 year/$16 million deal with $5 million in guarantees.  While Bush had played one more season then CJ, he had significantly less usage—Bush averaged 138 carries per year over his 7 year span prior to hitting free agency.

It’d make sense if Johnson received a contract in the same range as Bush’s deal. The 2014 cap is preliminary expected to be $126.3 million, which should give teams a little more spending room.  However, even with this extra spending money, I’d be surprised to see any team give much more than $5 million guaranteed to a running back that’s been used so heavily and is primed to enter his decline phase sooner rather than later.

Possible destinations:

Cleveland: The early favorite, the Brown’s will have a ton of cap space and RB is one of their biggest needs.

Oakland: Their cap situation has been restored from the Al Davis days. McFadden will likely depart. I have a feeling GM Reggie McKenzie will spend money in other areas, though, and have faith that Rashad Jennings will be able to handle primary back duties.

Jets: The Jets will also have some money to spend, and CJ would fit in nicely next to Chris Ivory. However, Gang Green may have more pressing needs to fill.

Miami: They lacked playmaking from the RB position after letting Bush leave in FA.  2014 is the last year of Daniel Thomas’ rookie deal…

Andrew Cohen