The Tennessee Titans have a new head coach, Ken Whisenhunt. They also have a franchise running back who isn’t happy with his role.
At some point before Week One of the 2014 season, one of the two will be gone.
Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, providing an opinion that feels like it originated with someone who knows what’s going on but who asked that Wyatt not attribute the idea to any source, believes that Johnson will be released, eventually. Wyatt points among other things to the $8 million salary, a year after Johnson rushed for only 1,077 yards, and Johnson’s 3.9-yard average in 2013.
Whisenhunt was non-committal during his press conference. For anything other than “Chris Johnson is one of the best running backs in the NFL and we’d be crazy not to keep him and use him,” the message could be that Johnson could be not in the plans.
Johnson has made it clear that he won’t take a pay cut. He also has made it clear that, if the team doesn’t plan to use him as a workhorse, the Titans should just cut him.
Johnson, who has made $30 million in three years, presumably prefers to receive an outright release. Still, the Titans could at least try to trade him. If Johnson thinks he can do better than $8 million in 2014 on the open market, any team that would step to the plate with that kind of cash also would potentially cough up a pick or two.
There’s no roster bonus or other trigger in Johnson’s contract requiring the team to move quickly; technically, the $8 million doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the start of the regular season (unless he suffers a season-ending injury in offseason workouts).
So the Titans could bide their time until the draft, dangling Johnson for a team that would be willing to roll the dice with Johnson, especially at a time when the increasing defensive focus on the passing game could make it easier to run the ball.