Titans release RB Johnson after restructuring talks fizzle
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As expected, the Titans have released running back Chris Johnson.
The franchise’s third all-time rusher, Johnson was scheduled to make $8 million for 2014 and ’15 and $6 million in 2016. The Titans sought to have Johnson renegotiate his contract since the end of last season, but he refused.
On Friday, Johnson met at the team facility with Titans general manager Ruston Webster, who informed the six-year running back of his release. That was later confirmed through a statement released by the club.
"As an organization, we want to thank Chris for his contributions to the Titans," Webster said. "Chris produced many memorable moments, broke franchise records and was durable over his six year career with our team."
Coming off minor knee surgery in January, Johnson passed a team physical on Friday. The Titans begin their official offseason workout program Monday. If Johnson had reported and been injured, Tennessee could have been responsible for the full $8 million due in 2014.
The Titans attempted to trade Johnson in recent weeks, but could not get a deal done.
"We have had an open dialogue with Chris’s agent, Joel Segal, over the last few weeks," said Webster, "and we appreciate the patience and professionalism they have shown throughout this process. We made an effort to trade Chris but were unable to do so."
Johnson, 28, has rushed for 7,965 yards and 50 touchdowns since being the Titans’ first-round draft pick in 2008 (East Carolina). In six seasons, the durable and speedy back started 93 of a possible 95 games, missing only one outing the last five years. In 2009, Johnson became the sixth NFL back (at the time) to surpass 2,000 yards rushing in a season. He set the NFL record that year with 2,509 yards from scrimmage and became the first player in league history to gain at least 2,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same year.
But Johnson’s numbers have steadily declined since that record-breaking season, including rushing for 1,077 yards in 2013 — the second-lowest tally of his career — on a career-low 3.9 yards per carry. His longest run from scrimmage last season — 30 yards — was the shortest/longest gain of any year.
Heading into the 2011 season, Johnson held out through training camp while seeking a new contract with the Titans. Ten days before the first game, he signed a four-year deal through 2016 for $53.5 million ($30 million guaranteed).
As a follow-up, Johnson then rushed for a career-low 1,047 yards.
"We wish Chris the best," Webster said, "and thank him for the six seasons he spent with us."
The Titans, who hired new head coach Ken Whisenhunt a few months ago (replacing Mike Munchak), have not made the playoffs since 2008. It is unsure how Johnson would have fit into the new system being installed by Whisenhunt, the former Chargers offensive coordinator and Cardinals head coach.
The Titans have four veteran running backs — Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster, Jackie Battle, Leon Washington — currently on the roster. The club is expected to add another back in the coming weeks, either through free agency or next month’s draft.
After rushing for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons with the Jets, Greene was signed last year to be the physical complement to Johnson’s breakaway threat. But Greene was hampered by a knee injury that limited him to 11 games, gaining only 295 yards with four touchdowns on 77 carries.
McCluster spent the last four seasons with the Chiefs (2010-13), who used him primarily as a receiver and punt returner. He carried the ball only 20 times the past two seasons, but is expected to be used in a variety of ways with the Titans.
Tennessee has the No. 11 overall pick in Round 1 and apparently want to prioritize the linebacker, rush end, cornerback and tackle positions. For Round 2, the Titans pick 10th (42nd overall) and could take a running back there, someone in the caliber of Auburn tailback Tre Mason (1,979 total yards, 24 TDs in 2013).