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Monday Musings: Why I think Chris Johnson is worth a 2-year, $6M deal

Chris Johnson isn't the big-play threat of seasons past, but still has some gas in the tank. (USATSI)
Chris Johnson isn't the big-play threat of seasons past, but still has some gas in the tank. (USATSI)

More NFL offseason: Mock Drafts | Prospect Rankings | Pro days | Top free agents

Chris Johnson once was a big-time home-run hitter.

He's now more of a singles hitter, but that doesn't mean he can't help a team in need at running back -- if the price is right (two-year deal for $6 million maybe?).

After Johnson was released Friday by the Tennessee Titans, I went back and studied his tape to see exactly what his new team would be getting. What I saw was a former big-play runner who made defensive coordinators hold their breath every time he touched it, morphing into more of a grinder. I don't mean to imply that he's a power runner, but the acceleration isn't what it used to be.

For the first time in his career, Johnson averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry, and the tape shows why. He just doesn't explode out of cuts like he did in his best seasons. When he ran for over 2,000 yards in 2009, he was nicknamed CJ2K. Now it's more like CJ1K.

Johnson rushed for 1,000 yards or more in each of his six seasons with the Titans, and at 28 he has good football left in his body.

But what would concern me is his longest three runs last season were 30, 24 and 23 yards. His longest three runs in 2012 were 94, 83 and 80 and he had a better line in 2013.

There were times on the tape when Johnson glided like he once did to big gains. But there were too many other times when he didn't have the pop to turn what was a short gain into a long one.

One of the few times you saw that speed come out again was the 30-yard touchdown run he had against the Colts in Week 11. Johnson slipped through a crack on the right side and exploded to make safety LaRon Landry miss on his way to the score.

He also showed off his old moves on a 23-yard run against the Chargers, making Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle whiff on a tackle with a great jump to the outside for the big gain.

If a team signs Johnson expecting a lot of that explosion, it is making a mistake. What that team will get is a player like the one we saw in a second-half sequence against the Colts in Week 13. On four consecutive runs, Johnson took the ball from the Titans' 13 to the 41. He gained 28 yards on runs of 9, 3, 7 and 9 yards. It was nothing fancy, but his good feet helped make those runs possible.

Something else to consider: Johnson still can help a team in the passing game. He had 52 catches, four for touchdowns, and his average of 8.2 yards per catch was second only to the 10.1 he had in that magical 2009 season.

Something else of note: He gained 711 of his 1,077 yards rushing in the final two months. If I were a general manager, I would pass on signing any veteran running back for anything more than the minimum. I think you draft backs and let the younger guys play. Despite that thinking, Johnson can still help a team that needs a veteran to spot in and run it 10 to 15 times and also help in the passing game.

Just don't expect a lot of home runs. That's not his game anymore.

More musings

The Jaguars would be smart to sign Browns center Alex Mack to an offer sheet. He is one of the league's top centers and would give them stability in the middle of their line. With Zane Beadles signed to play left guard, Luke Joeckel at left tackle and developing Austin Pasztor at right tackle, the line would be significantly improved from a year ago. The key to signing Mack, since he is a transition player, would be to structure the deal so it would make it tough for the Browns to match. "It's possible if they get creative," one AFC GM said. We shall see, but just considering the move is right for the Jaguars. The center position has increased in value with so many multiple looks now. That player has to know what's coming in terms of pressures from the defense to make his calls. He also has to be strong enough to handle power over his face. Mack can do both, and his athletic ability is really impressive, on display in a breakdown I did before free agency opened.

It's hard to argue against Pete Carroll or John Fox getting contract extensions. Both are coming off Super Bowl seasons and their teams will be in the mix again. Carroll has keyed an impressive turnaround in Seattle, and is now under contract through 2016. He turns 65 that season. As for the money, he was making $7 million a season on his last deal, so it's likely he is now making in the range of $8 million per season -- which is said to be as high as anybody in the league. Fox inherited a 4-12 team and has gone 26-6 combined the past two regular seasons, earning the top seed both years. He was entering the final year of his three-year contract, so it made sense to keep him off lame-duck status. Now both men can just concentrate on football -- and counting their money.

I could hear the collective moaning from New England when the Patriots re-signed safety Patrick Chung. He was awful for the Eagles last season and has never been good in coverage. The Patriots also released veteran Adrian Wilson. If Chung is on the field, the Patriots have big issues.

New Bucs coach Lovie Smith is convinced Josh McCown is the right man at QB in Tampa. (USATSI)
New Bucs coach Lovie Smith is convinced Josh McCown is the right man at QB in Tampa. (USATSI)

I am on record as saying that the Josh McCown signing is a nothing more than ointment for a supposed wound in Tampa Bay. But coach Lovie Smith is a big McCown supporter. "He brings mobility to the position," Smith said. "He makes good decisions. As I looked at it, I said, 'Who is available that I think can help us win football games?' What Josh displayed last year was that. There are a couple other good quarterbacks in their 30s doing a pretty good job right now. I don't think you are ready to be put out to pasture yet when you get into your 30s." No, but when a guy has a track record of being average for most of his career, there has to be concern. You are what you are in most cases and McCown has been average at best, except last season with the Bears.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said at the league meetings that he wants second-year player Micah Hyde on the field more. That would be smart. Hyde isn't a fast corner, but he has the instincts to make plays, which he showed as a rookie last season. I think he could be a really good free safety. Hyde has to play more.

If Kenny Britt ever decides he's going to focus on football, the Rams will have a steal by signing him to a one-year deal. The former Titans receiver, who was troubled in his time there, has the tools to be a big-play threat but he infuriates coaches. Shawn Jefferson, the receivers coach for the Titans, is a heck of a coach who won't back down from players. He was always on Britt, and even he couldn't get the best out of him. Good luck to the Rams. Even with Britt, the receiver the Rams are really high on heading into his second season is Stedman Bailey. He came on late last season. In Tavon Austin, Bailey, Britt and Chris Givens, the Rams have a solid foursome. But they still could add Sammy Watkins with the second pick. Could you imagine defending that group?

So the union is going to look into why the Eagles released DeSean Jackson? I'll save them some work: They felt it was best for their team. Do they need to give the union a reason?

There are plenty of veteran fullbacks available, including Greg Jones and Vonta Leach. Problem is, fullbacks are being phased out.

I, for one, would love to see Donald Trump buy the Buffalo Bills. Think of all the opinions he would have. Love him or hate him -- and most do -- Trump would be a fun owner to cover. Just ask him.

The 2014 season kicks off Monday for teams with new coaches because they are able to begin their workout programs. Other teams have to wait until April 21. That means Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Houston, Tennessee and Washington all start offseason workouts Monday.

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