Despite being previously reluctant to reduce his pay in order to facilitate a trade, Titans running back Chris Johnson is willing to take less to make it happen, as Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reported last night.
The question now isn’t whether Johnson will take less, but how much less?
As we understand it, not much. At a certain point, Johnson will decide to hold firm until he’s released and hits the open market. While the Titans can, in theory, string this out until Week One of the regular season before any of Johnson’s pay becomes guaranteed, they’ll have another Steve McNair mess on their hands if the impasse lingers past the start of the offseason program and the Titans try to lock Johnson out, in order to ensure he doesn’t suffer a season-ending injury that would put them on the hook for his full $8 million salary.
For a team that is interested in acquiring Johnson, the question becomes whether to make a trade to get him on a reduced deal, or to let him hit the market and hope he can be signed with other teams pursuing him.
It’s currently unclear which, if any, teams are interested. Though he’s still believed to be a difference maker, the overall market for running backs has become depressed in recent years. The going rate for free agents signed to date this year is $3.5 million per year over three years (Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown), with Darren McFadden chasing a six-year, $60 million rookie deal with a one-year contract that pays him $100,000 guaranteed.
The top running back in the class, Texans tailback Ben Tate, has generated interest only from the Browns. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has drawn interest from the Jets, but no visit yet.
Johnson has made $30 million over the last three years. He’ll add to that total in 2014; eventually, we’ll find out how much — and from whom.