Interested teams have been sniffing around on Chris Johnson ever since the Tennessee Titans placed their "star" running back on the trade block.
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Due $8 million under his current contract, though, Johnson always has been more likely to be released than traded.
What Johnson is
Judge the game, not the name. Along with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, Johnson is perhaps the NFL's most enigmatic player. Ever since the magical "CJ2K" season, analysts have been debating why Johnson has failed to live up to expectations.
The offensive line regressed to the point where it was no longer opening holes. As a result, Johnson got into bad habits. He was too hesitant to hit holes and constantly was seeking the home run at the expense of a single or double. His effort has been questioned ever since he signed a four-year, $53.5 million extension in 2011.
The 28-year-old version of Johnson is a boom-or-bust runner, inconsistent from game to game. He no longer boasts insane lateral agility and record-setting 4.24 speed, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he could still break a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash.
On the positive side, Johnson hasn't missed a game in five years and never has been held under 1,000 rushing yards in a season. How many players can make that same claim at a position that absorbs more punishment than any other? Here's a hint: zero.
What Johnson is not
A chain mover. When Johnson entered the NFL with a bang out of East Carolina, he was a hammer to the hole, churning out tough yards in the trenches like a more slightly built Marion Barber with the added benefit of track-star speed. Those days are gone. Johnson's boom-or-bust style results in an abnormal number of negative plays, putting his quarterback in too many second- or third-and-long situations.
Because of his body type, speed, quickness and background as a wide receiver prospect entering college, Johnson is mistakenly viewed as an elite receiving back. Outside of that 2009 season, though, he has been just a hypothetical threat as a receiver. He drops too many passes, doesn't run a wide variety of routes and hangs out too close to the line of scrimmage, begging for dumpoffs.
So what teams make sense for Johnson?
The most obvious connection is to St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who has signed former Titans players such as Cortland Finnegan, William Hayes, Will Witherspoon and Jared Cook. Fisher drafted Isaiah Pead with visions of Johnson dancing in his head, only to see the 2012 second-rounder remaindered to the doghouse the past two years.
If Fisher opts to stick with promising second-year back Zac Stacy as his three-down workhorse, as expected, the following landing spots make sense on one level or another:
1. New York Jets: The Jets showed interest in Maurice Jones-Drew and Donald Brown early in free agency, a sign they want veteran insurance for an often banged-up Chris Ivory. John Idzik has plenty of salary cap space after missing out on the market's top cornerbacks. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports, via a source informed of the Titans' thinking, that the Jetscame the closest to pulling off a trade.
2. Atlanta Falcons: In addition to the Jets, the Falcons and Bills also reached out to the Titans, per Rapoport. Even with coach Mike Smith's recent vote of confidence in Steven Jackson, the Falcons could use an influx of speed in the backfield.
3. Buffalo Bills: The Bills' interest in a Johnson trade is a surprise. Even with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson due to reach free agency next season, three would be a crowd in the Buffalo backfield.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones' outfit was looking for a more reliable back to pair with DeMarco Murray leading up to last season's trade deadline. Johnson recently began following Jones on Twitter. Coincidence? Not according to Mike Garofolo, who reports the Cowboys have joined the Jets and Giants in inquiring about Johnson since he hit the trade block.
5. New York Giants: The Giants are also among the teams that have asked about Johnson, per Garofolo. They are not expected to enter a bidding war for his services, however, now that Rashad Jennings is on board and coach Tom Coughlin is "counting on" David Wilson to have a role this season. Giants beat writers remainskeptical that the team's interest is legitimate.
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6. Denver Broncos: John Elway recently emphasized the need to get better in the run game. If Knowshon Moreno can reach 1,500 total yards and 13 touchdowns against slack boxes provided by the threat of Peyton Manning's prolific aerial attack, a return to 2,000 yards from scrimmage wouldn't be out of the question for Johnson. Even with Montee Ball ready to take the reins, the Broncos might talk themselves into Johnson as a superior option for an organization in win-now mode.
7. Cleveland Browns: Newly signed Ben Tate is making high-end punter moneyunder his new contract. Will that stop the Browns from adding depth and reuniting Johnson with Loggains?
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