Titans, Chris Johnson Have Reason To Reach A Deal Benefiting Both Parties
Updated: Monday, January 27 2014, 08:43 PM CST
NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson revealed to The Tennessean on Monday he had been playing with a torn meniscus since Week 3 of the season.
Johnson admitted it wasn't a significant tear given he was able to play on with the injury, but will need surgery which will keep him from training for about a month. Even with the tear, CJ2K was able to amass 1,077 yards and six scores. Not bad for a guy who was playing at less than 100%.
The larger issue at hand is money. Johnson is expected to cost the Titans $10 million towards their cap this season, leading to rumors the team could part ways with him in favor of handing the reins to Shonn Greene. The prevailing theory among fans and local sports media is the team could get by with a player who costs less, while allowing that cap space to go towards adding other much needed weapons. While there is merit to the basic philosophy, there are plenty of factors which say otherwise.
Johnson wasn't happy with how he was used under Mike Munchak, but the arrival of Ken Whisenhunt could change things. "Whiz" has called plays for Jerome Bettis, "Fast" Willie Parker and Edgerrin James. Exploiting the talents of three top running backs the league has seen the last twenty years is likely to have Johnson feeling good about his prospects. Not only that, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews finally played all sixteen games and rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards under Whisenhunt. Mathews had been considered a bust given his talent, but was finally able to put it all together this year.
Another big factor is Johnson's contract. Even with his $10 million, the Titans are projected to be about $6.6 million under the cap in 2014. Granted, that doesn't allow for much room to add critical pieces, but for the league's 11th ranked rusher, $10 million is not exorbitant after what was considered a "down year." If Johnson improves, the money will be well used. Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Ben Tate are free agents which could fill the void for the Titans, but all are likely to command a significant cap hit similar to Johnson in 2014. Bottom line, there is only so much more room which can be created from being just six million under the cap.
Chris Johnson's contract isn't so much about him as it is the quarterback position. Jake Locker is an unknown commodity and if Whisenhunt plans on sticking with him at quarterback, then having a solid backfield becomes that much more important. If he decides to chase a player like Vick, then Johnson has likely seen his last days in blue. Yet again, we circle back to the cap issue. Swapping players for similar cap-hits doesn't help address the needs at wideout or defense. In essence, the Titans would just be trading players in hopes that one guy can take them to the promised land.
The best and only real solution is for Johnson to restructure his contract with the team in a way which will still allow him to get paid but also allow the team to reduce their expenses under cap rules. He said he wasn't willing to do so, but that was before Whisenhunt, that was before an admission to injury and that was before the start of a free agency which will see plenty of running backs saturating the market. At some point, the reality called finances will set in...both for Johnson and for the Titans.
--Adrian Mojica is the Web Producer for WZTV and former writer/editor for NFL.com. You can follow him @FFFDaily on Twitter