Dec 17, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) runs on to the field prior to the game against the New York Jets at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans' $9M Decision

The Tennessee Titans have 5 days after the Super Bowl to make a decision on whether or not they are going to keep their star running back Chris Johnson.  They could technically make the decision later, but the $9M guaranteed portion of his scheduled $10M salary will kick in on the 8th of February.  The team broke their own mold as well as the bank when they signed him to 6 year $56M  contract in 2011.  At the time of the deal, there was less debate as to whether or not the Titans should sign him, but whether or not they would sign him.  This time around the question is whether or not they should keep on fishing or cut bait and go home.

There is little argument that the 2011 season for CJ2K was a bust.  After holding out for all of training camp as well as the preseason, he had little to no rhythm and seemed to “dance” more than usual showing a lack of effort or desire to hit the holes hard.  The beginning of 2012 didn’t look much better.  There was a definite improvement of how hard CJ looked to be running, but his decision making was not what it used to be.  Even worse was the lack of cohesion on the offensive line.  More often than not there was nowhere for CJ to run, he got few carries, and the result was some pathetic outings both for CJ and the offense in general.

Chris Johnson’s Rushing Stats for 2012:

After the first abysmal 5 games, the offensive line and Johnson got on track and reeled of a handful of games that made the rushing attack look like the days of old.  Chris Johnson looked again like a play making running back that could break open a game all on his own and worthy of his payday. The rest of the season was a bit of a downturn again but most of that was due to the deterioration of the offensive line through injuries.  He finished out the season strong and looked like one of the only bright spots on an inept offense.

So now the question is whether or not the Titans’ star running back is worth the $10M coming to him this season.

Some will argue that running backs just aren’t worth the money anymore.  The supposed trend in the league is to find a solid young and fresh running back in the mid to later rounds of the draft, with very few first round picks being spent on running back anymore.  People will point to the likes of LeGarrette Blount in 2011 and Alfred Morris this most recent year.  Cut CJ, keep the money and just pick up someone in the third or fourth round and you’re good to go.  Right?

Not so fast.  Since the great Eddie George moved on from the Titans, they have been through a plethora of backs.  Chris Brown held down the fort for a time  and Travis Henry had one good year as a free agent. Remember Chris Henry, Lendale White, Damien Nash, Quinton Ganther and Troy Flemming?  Not to mention Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper who are both still on the roster.  That’s a pretty poor track record of running backs drafted vs. success for the Tennessee Titans.  Alfred Morris  may have been a fifth round wonder this year but there were 18 other running backs drafted outside the first round in 2012.  None of which have shown themselves to be franchise starters for years to come, and many’s names will never be known by the common fan.

Chris Johnson is one of the franchises actual “hits” of a draft pick in a long line of misses.

An underrated aspect of Chris Johnson’s game. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Another main argument against CJ is the way he accumulates his yards.  His one or two big runs a game pad his stats and that if you take them away then his numbers are horrible.  He doesn’t get you the tough one or two yards when nothing is there, and may even go backwards trying to run around defenders instead of just trying to get back the line of scrimmage.

Well, “if” is a crooked word.  If the dog hadn’t stopped to go number 2, then he would have caught the rabbit.  You can’t take those runs away from him and quite frankly it’s a poor argument.  IF you take away Chris Johnson’s 94 yard touchdown run on the Monday Night game against the NY Jets, he would have only had 28 yards on 20 carries.  But he DID have that run, and that run won the Titans an emotional home game on national television.  Any opposing fan or defensive player can tell you how demoralizing it is to have a home run play hit like that in a close game.

The Tennessee Titans have close to $20M in cap room to spend this off season.  They also have a good number of needs including DE, Saftey and Offensive line for starters.  What would they do with another $10M to spend?  History would show that you’re going to overspend in free agency. If you cut CJ, then you’ll have to spend that money elsewhere, so why overspend on an unproven commodity that may or may not meld with your team?  Chris Johnson is a proven play maker and still finished 9th in rushing yards even with the poor start he had.  He’s also a very underrated pass blocker and has developed a great knack for picking up blitzes and protecting the quaterback.    It may be a heavy price to pay for a devalued position, but it’s also one less need the Titans would have to fill this off season.

Hopefully Dowell Loggains is looking at tape on how the Titans were able to get Johnson the ball in space during the 2009 season in which he broke the all time record for yards from scrimmage.  Personally I would rather keep the weapons we have and build around them as opposed to trying out someone else that another team obviously thought wasn’t worth the money.

What do you think?  Keep him?  Or cut him?


You can find me on Twitter  @gunnelsj


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Tags: AFC South Chris Johnson Chris Johnson Contract CJ2K Free Agency Tennessee Titans

  • Shawn Eagle

    Nice article!!!! Dang it!!!

    Ok, here’s what I think. While he is our only true proven playmaker, are we going to the Super Bowl in the next couple years? I don’t think so, so why not reboot now and draft a RB that can get the tough yards, that can wear away at a defense. While CJ is fun to watch, with a young QB and erratic offense….his 1st down runs of -3 yards almost always turn into punting situations for the Titans.

    Let me be specific….I only want to part ways with CJ because I don’t see the team turning into an offensive juggernaut with him. Why? We need to see how Locker develops, we need to get our O line in shape, we need to be consistent on offense(multiple games).

    • josh gunnels

      The argument about him losing yards on 1st down and making it even harder on a young QB is by far the best argument against him staying. We should be trying to for more manageable down and distance situations and be less reliant on all or nothing play.

      I would be more apt to dump him and free up the cap space if we weren’t already $19M under. Who else can we get? If it meant that we could get Kruger AND Levitre AND Goldson then heck I’m all for it!

      The assumption that you’re going to be able to draft a RB that can get the tough yards is also pretty big. It would be even worse for Locker to have NO running game at all than a big hit or miss one.

      • Shawn Eagle

        Now I understand we have 19.4 million…but that’s not free and clear, we still have to re-sign players…CJ, Cookie, Bironas, Velasco? We also have escalators in contracts…bout to write about so I won’t say too much now.
        So…maybe we’re only really looking at 8-9 mil once all of those deals are done. Not a ton of money.

        I’m sorry….but we can find a RB in the draft that will be good and will be able to soften the blow. WE ARE IN FULL REBUILD MODE….CJ is already 27….are we going to the Super Bowl in two years when he’s 29?

        • Justin Stewart

          Frank Gore just did!

        • josh gunnels

          The 19.4 million IS free and clear!!!! it includes CJ’s full contract. Not those without one. tag Cook, pay bironas and velascoe, the will renegotiate Hasselbeck and some others to offset these guys.
          If we freed up another $10M we would end up going free agent crazy like the Eagles.

  • Modesto Koczwara

    When he does not juke at the line, he can make yards. I think he is learning he cannot hit a home run every play.

    • Justin Stewart

      It’s hard not to juke when his line is failing him every other play. We’d see a lot less with some fresh young players on that O-line.

      • Modesto Koczwara

        Yeah, but it is completely different when you juke out of the designed running lane which we saw CJ did early in the season.

  • Justin Stewart

    Not too mention, CJ is a beast. The fact that the guy has remained so healthy his entire career is amazing.

    Kidding yourself if you think defenses didn’t ever try to take him out of the game.

  • Joshua Huffman

    I don’t see how they could release him. Just from a business perspective, they need his star power. If they do get rid of him, it means they have great faith that they can sell some big-name FAs on joining this team. Still a huge risk to cut him but I understand the scarcity argument.

    • Justin Stewart

      Truth. CJ is the only big name the Titans have.

    • josh gunnels

      Especially if they go Offensive line heavy (like they should) in the draft and FA. Nothing sexy there