One player that can be added to that list is former Tennessee Titans runningback Chris Johnson. This past Friday, the Titans parted ways with their sixth-year rusher who set franchise records in yards for a season. Since hitting the open market, Johnson has drawn interest from the New York Jets, New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys.
Cincinnati is not expected to make a play for the 2009 league rushing champion, and for good reasons.
One of the principal reasons Tennessee general manager Ruston Webster released Johnson is because the runningback would not agree to a pay cut. Johnson was set to make $8 million with the Titans in 2014 and count $10 million against their cap. Though a team signing him would not have to pay nearly that amount due to this being a down market for free agent runningbacks, an expectation of $3 million to $4 million annually would not be out of the question.
After the Daniel Manning signing, the Bengals have just over $24 million in cap space. They could clearly afford Chris Johnson and not even worry about it for 2014. If the cap ramifications did not affect the 2015 cap, when the Bengals are expected to try to re-sign both wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton, then the signing would not be that bad of a deal financially.
Here is where signing Chris Johnson does not make sense.
Firstly, 2013 second round runningback Giovani Bernard filled in impressively in a backup role with the 2013 AFC North champions. He played all sixteen games and carried the ball 170 times for 695 yards, which is 4.1 yards per carry. He scored five rushing touchdowns, and he also caught 56 passes for 514 yards and three additional touchdowns. He was second on the team behind A.J. Green in catches, third on the team in terms of yards, and fourth on the team in terms of receiving touchdowns. Steady improvement in training camp could supplant BenJarvus Green-Ellis, relegating him to a backup role at a cost of $2.3 million, an amount below Chris Johnson’s free agent standards.
Secondly, Johnson has not played in Hue Jackson’s offense. There are no connections between Hue Jackson and Johnson’s former coordinators in the late Mike Heimerdinger (2008-10), Chris Palmer (2011-12), and Dowell Loggains (2013). Johnson would not fit schematically into what the Bengals are trying to accomplish under Jackson.
Finally, after his 2011 contract extension, Johnson has not played the same type of football that built his reputation from 2008-10. Since 2011, he has not scored more than six touchdowns a season despite scoring at least nine in his first three seasons. In two of his past three seasons, he has barely cracked 1,000 yards rushing. He has been healthy and played all but one contest in his career, but his yards per carry for 2013 was just 3.9.
The direction the Cincinnati Bengals need to stay on is one that cultivates younger talent and keeps cap space in the coffers. Signing Chris Johnson is a deviation from those two successful objectives.