Cardinals GM Steve Keim rules out one option with David Johnson ahead of 2020 offseason
Arizona will not be cutting David Johnson loose
Running back David Johnson's future with the Arizona Cardinals is very much in a state of flux, but general manager Steve Keim made it abundantly clear on Friday that the team has no interest in releasing him.
"Cutting him is not an option," he told reporters regarding Johnson's status with the team.
Really, this is stating the obvious for the Cardinals as releasing Johnson would result in a $16.2 million dead cap hit, per Spotrac. Johnson has nearly a $15 million salary cap number in 2020. In other words, by releasing Johnson, the Cardinals would essentially be allocating nearly $15 million in 2020 salary cap space alone just for Johnson not to be on the roster. Given that they'd be looking at a significant hit, it doesn't make much sense to let him go for nothing. Keim also left the door open for Johnson to a part of the team's future in 2020 noting "you can't just have one back."
Johnson has seen quite the fall from grace since his NFL leading 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdown season in 2016. Since then he's dealt with a wrist injury that kept him out the majority of the 2017 season and he's never truly returned to form since. Rock bottom for Johnson came in 2019 when he lost the starting job to newly acquired running back Kenyan Drake and was essentially used as a reserve backup for mop-up duty. He finished that year with just 345 yards on the ground and two touchdowns while catching 36 passes for 370 yards and four scores.
Kenyan Drake, who rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns over eight games played with the Cards last season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but, given his success in 2019, one would think Arizona would like to have him in the fold going forward alongside third-year back Chase Edmonds. That would leave Johnson as a pretty expensive backup if Keim elects to keep him on the roster for depth.
Of course, Arizona could look to trade Johnson somewhere across the league, but they'd likely have to attack some draft capital alongside him to make absorbing his contract a little more palatable. Johnson is signed through the 2021 season, but any club could get out from under his deal following 2020 and clear $9 million from their cap by cutting him loose a year early.
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