Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans’ $9M Decision


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

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