Now, I don't foresee it going down that way -- it's not the team's plan. But it's worth noting that after a long and at times grating holdout, the contract is structured in a way that could allow the Titans to let Johnson walk.
Following a 34-day holdout, Johnson signed a four-year, $53.5 million contract that temporarily made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL. Johnson earned the deal after leading the NFL in rushing the past three seasons and in 2009 becoming the sixth back in league history to eclipse 2,000 yards in a single season. But since re-signing with the Titans, Johnson has looked like anything but a top-tier tailback.
Johnson has just 302 rushing yards through seven games this season and is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. Johnson has only one touchdown, and he recently admitted his poor start has made him more frustrated than he has ever been in his career.
Johnson has $17 million of his total of $30 million guaranteed, which currently is guaranteed for injury only. It's not guaranteed for skill (diminished production). Of that $17 million, $8 million doesn't convert to skill guarantee until the fifth day of the 2012 waiver period (early March). The remaining $9 million converts on the fifth day of the 2013 waiver period.
So the Titans conceivably could release him for decline in skill -- assuming he continues to struggle -- after one season of the long-term extension and not owe him anything more beyond his $13 million in 2011 pay. Of course, it's highly likely the Titans will give Johnson at least another season and pay him $22 million over the first two years of the deal.
However, the Titans then could get out of the deal after 2012 and save that other $8 million. Johnson is set to count $12 million against the 2013 cap.
Johnson's $8 million salary for 2012 de-escalates by $300,000 if he fails to rush for 1,000 yards this season.
Johnson will earn $3 million this season in guaranteed base salary, and he received a $10 million signing bonus when he signed Sept. 1.