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Cardinals GM: Cutting RB David Johnson 'not an option'

David Johnson might not be the player he once was in Arizona, but he's not going to be released.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim made that clear Friday during an appearance on 98.7 FM in Phoenix.

"Cutting him is not an option," Keim said.

Keim is correct: Cutting Johnson isn't an option, because the contract the Cardinals had Johnson sign on the eve of the 2018 season makes it financially prohibitive to do so. Johnson carries a cap hit of slightly more than $14 million this season if he remains on the roster, while he'll account for even more in dead cap space -- $16.2 million, to be exact -- if he's released.

With that all-important detail considered, it seems the Cardinals have only one option: trade him.

It's not that simple, though, because Arizona still needs a dependable running back or two. Kenyan Drake proved to be that in the second half of 2019, but he's headed to free agency if the Cardinals can't work out a deal to keep him before the start of the new league year. As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport tweeted, it would be much easier for the Cardinals to seek a Johnson trade if they knew they were keeping Drake. And as Keim said Friday, "you can't just have one back."

How did we get here with Johnson? After two seasons, Johnson appeared to be the next great multidimensional running back, displaying excellent pass-catching abilities and track-level speed to sprint past defenders for big gains and touchdowns. His breakout 2016 campaign saw him rack up over 2,100 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns (16 rushing, four receiving), and he ascended to the top of fantasy draft boards all over the world.

But injuries limited him to just one game in 2017, and his 2018 campaign was spent as a lonely focal point in a talent-devoid offense that was reliant on Sam Bradford and then-rookie Josh Rosen at quarterback. Defenses prepared to stop Johnson because they knew the Cardinals didn't have much else (other than future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was forced to catch passes from undependable quarterbacks), and they knew Arizona's offensive line also couldn't do much of anything successful. His 1,386 all-purpose yards went unnoticed as his team finished worst in the NFL.

By the time 2019 rolled around, Johnson wasn't much of a factor, posting his second straight season of less than 3.8 yards per carry. He still accounted for six touchdowns, but his numbers simply don't match up to his pay grade.

Arizona signed Johnson in 2018 in what was essentially a bet on his future stock with the hopes the injury-filled 2017 would be his lowest point. Instead, the Cardinals will likely have to eat a healthy amount of the money remaining on Johnson's contract -- which runs through 2021 but also sees a significant drop in dead cap in its final season -- in order to facilitate a trade. And that's really only possible if Keim can feel comfortable about the other running backs on his roster.

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