Sept. 21, 2014.
That date marks the third Sunday of the 2014-15 NFL regular-season calendar. It’s two days before Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson turns age 29. This marks the last full season before Johnson enter the dreaded age when running backs are expected to exponentially regress: 30.
Tackles and bone-jarring hits pile up. Surgeries and medical procedures take their toll on the body. Last month, Johnson had surgery to repair a torn knee meniscus that he claimed that he played through since Week 3 of the 2013-14 season. Any knee procedure is a cause for concern, especially for a running back who’s heavily dependent on his speed and elusiveness. Any ongoing and lingering issues would mean decreases in those attributes.
Are the Titans prepared to write the final chapter in Johnson’s Titans career? The six-year running back and former 2,000-yard rusher enters this offseason scheduled to make an $8 million base salary. Johnson insists that he’ll accept no pay cuts. He’s coming off his second-worst season when he had 279 carries for 1,077 yards with six touchdowns. That’s a 3.9 average. His season spiraled downward following the knee injury.
Cutting Johnson would mean that the team saves $6 million in 2014***. Is it worth saving $6 million on an aging running back who, despite his discouraging numbers, was one of 13 ball-carriers who finished with 1,000-plus rushing yards? Of course, he was the only one of that group who averaged fewer than four yards per carry. Only Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush had fewer touchdowns (four).
A strong start to the season had fans excited. His first three games included 69 carries for 256 yards. His next four games following a reported knee injury: 46 carries for 110 yards. His first two touchdowns didn’t come until Week 9. He finished the season with only two 100-yard rushing performances.
Self-confidence or arrogance? Johnson hasn’t endeared himself to skeptical enthusiasts who’ve grown weary of his 2,000-yard predictions, only to come more than 500 yards short on every attempt. Comments such as this…
“I’d rather have 2,000 yards than have 20 touchdowns, so you got to take the good with the bad.”
… have put him in the spotlight about as often as his individual game performances.
When tight end Delanie Walker mentioned that the 2013-14 team had 6-7 cancers who dragged them down, fans kept naming two possibilities: Kenny Britt and Chris Johnson. During a series of tweets when Johnson was upset about players not getting mentioned, Walker claimed that Johnson and he was on the same page.
The cancer accusations were and are unfair. If Johnson didn’t care, then why jeopardize career longevity and play 13 games through a torn meniscus? He’s not a power-back and he doesn’t excel in-between the tackles. A serious knee injury will effectively end his career. There goes playing for a championship contender. There goes playing for personal accolades and stats. However one views his goals, a team cancer doesn’t play through injury on a 7-9 team.
The Titans don’t have a heir apparent at running back. If Johnson leaves, this team must either sign a free agent, draft someone who can make an immediate impact, or lean on Shonn Greene as a starter. Before next season starts, Greene turns age 29. With or without Johnson, the Titans must add some younger legs to their depth chart.
What should Tennessee do? Titan Sized writers have offered their own takes. Staff writer Nicholas Pitakos explains his reason for why it isn’t a good idea to replace Johnson with Knowshon Moreno. Contributor jbecker1762 projects that while Tennessee can’t afford to keep him at his current productivity, there are a few teams who may benefit from taking a risk on him.
How do our readers feel about the former 2,000-yard rusher? Should the Titans keep him for the 2014-15 NFL season or move on? Answer in the poll below. Then give your take in the comments, Twitter or Facebook.
***UPDATE 2-14-13: There are conflicting reports as to the amount that Tennessee saves if they release Johnson. Is it $4 million or $6 million?
ESPN and local sports talk personality Paul Kuharsky posted a salary-cap situation. He has Johnson’s cap charge at $10 million. The Titans are scheduled to owe him an $8 million base salary PLUS a $2 million prorated signing bonus.
So it either costs Tennessee $10 million to keep him or $4 million in cap space to let him walk. $10 million minus dead money ($2 million prorated signing bonuses for BOTH 2014 and 2015). $10 million minus $4 million dead money equals $6 million in cap savings.