New York Jets made one of the splashiest moves of the offseason, reaching agreement with former Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnsonon a two-year contract, league sources tell ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Johnson, released April 4, generated little interest on the open market. He visited with only one team — the Jets — wrapping up his visit Tuesday. They wanted to get him signed before the start of their offseason program next week. No other team was identified as a serious suitor.
For years, Johnson was one of the sport’s elite players. He has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in his each of six seasons, including 2,006 yards in 2009. But declining production, coupled with a large salary, led to his ouster.
The Jets were reportedly one of four teams that inquired about trading for Johnson, but they didn’t want to pick up his salary ($8 million) or surrender a draft pick, not when his release was expected.
They finished sixth in rushing last season, and they have every running back returning in 2014, but they felt they need to add more speed. Johnson, 28, is one of the fastest backs in the league, although he’s coming off a season in which he averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry.
Johnson’s health is a question. He underwent surgery in late January to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, and only began running about a month ago. He said after the season that he first hurt his knee in Week 3. He didn’t miss any games, becoming the only player in the NFL with 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons. Obviously, the Jets feel confident he will regain his explosiveness.
There’s also a question about Johnson’s role. He was the workhorse in Tennessee, averaging 290 carries per season, but he likely will have to accept a reduced role as part of a committee approach. The Jets’ other veteran backs are Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, who rushed for a team-high 833 yards. Ivory’s power game should pair nicely with Johnson.
Johnson’s pass-catching ability is another reason why they signed him. He’s not a prolific receiver, but he averages 45 receptions per season. With 42 catches last season, he was only shy of the Jets’ team leader, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. Johnson had as many receiving touchdowns as any player on the Jets.
Johnson became the Jets’ third high-profile addition on offense, joining quarterback Michael Vick and wide receiver Eric Decker.
Once known as CJ2K, Johnson brings star power to the position, the first true breakaway back of the Rex Ryan era. Ryan coached Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson, both accomplished runners, but they weren’t home-run threats.
Some will argue that Johnson no longer has that dimension, as he managed only five runs of at least 20 yards last season.
There has been a dramatic decline in all aspects of his game since 2011, when he signed a four-year, $53.5 million contract extension.
Shaky offensive-line play, a change in coordinators and the knee injury have contributed to Johnson’s downturn, but scouts also have noticed that he’s not as elusive as he once was. He doesn’t force as many missed tackle as he did in his vintage seasons. In 2009, the year he dominated the league, he ripped off 22 runs of at least 20 yards.
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