The Tennessee Titans released former All-Pro running back and 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson on Friday. The New York Jets are still looking to add more offensive weapons and will certainly have interest in Johnson, but if GM John Idzik‘s cautious approach to free agency is any indication, it will have to be at the right price.
Johnson has been among the most reliable and prolific backs in the league since being drafted in 2008, having turned in at least 1,000 yards rushing in each of his six seasons as a pro. While CJ2K hasn’t come close to the heights he reached in 2009, he’s managed to carry the Titans’ offense since then despite receiving increased attention from opposing defenses and without any significant help. He is also an effective receiver out of the backfield and has demonstrated an ability to stay healthy missing only one game in his entire career.
Durability and production? I’d buy that for a dollar.
However, it is very unlikely that Johnson has another 2,000 yard season in him as NFL running backs age in dog years. His yards per carry has dropped off the last few seasons, but he still has the kind of game breaking speed the Jets are looking for on the offensive side of the ball and would be an excellent complement to the hard running Chris Ivory. Johnson could serve as the type of home run threat New York had hoped Mike Goodson would be last year. John Idzik, though, has shown an unwillingness to overpay in free agency. It’s doubtful that Idzik would be willing to pay the $8 million a year Johnson is going to be looking for, and will probably look to offer a deal closer to the $3-5 million range, the standard for a veteran back.
It is very possible that this approach could ultimately pay off for the Jets. Unfortunately for Chris Johnson, free agent running backs in their late 20’s don’t attract the attention and earn the same kind of money as they once did. The feature back has never been valued less in the NFL than it is now in 2014. Maurice Jones-Drew would certainly attest to this fact. In addition, Johnson’s release has occurred relatively late in the free agent period, with most of the RB hungry teams having already made their move snatching up the best free agents available. The Jets are one of the few teams left that have both the need and the means to sign a player like Johnson. Market conditions might force him to accept the low-ball offer the frugal Idzik is sure to offer.
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