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Chris Johnson: 2014 and Beyond

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When the Jets signed Chris Johnson, the question was simple. Were there any drops of productivity left for the team to squeeze? Johnson's production had been in steady decline for years. Perhaps the thinking went he would be better off in a reduced role. With less carries, he could stay fresh. He also wouldn't have to pace himself. He could go 100% when he was in the game. It was a calculated gamble. Johnson had been used heavily in his career and was around the age where backs reach the point of no return.

The calculated gamble did not pay dividends. Johnson rushed for 663 yards on a 4.3 average, but he did not make much of an impact. He had one game, a contest at home against the Dolphins, where he looked like a difference-maker. He ran for 105 yards on 17 carries. For most of the season, he looked like a shell of the dynamic back who once rushed for 2,000 yards in Tennessee. There were glimpses here and there, but the quality performances were few.

How consistently was Johnson not helping the team? In nine of sixteen games, he didn't even average 3.5 yards per carry. A back has to be over 4 yards per carry to be good.

Where Johnson really failed to produce was in providing big plays. In his early days, big game-changing runs were Johnson's calling card. Instead his steady deterioration in this area continued, despite reduced playing time that might have kept him fresher.

Season Total Carries % of carries resulting in 15+ yard gain
2009 358 8.3
2010 316 6.3
2011 262 6.1
2012 276 5
2013 279 5
2014 155 4.5

*Numbers crunched from Pro Football Focus

He also wasn't productive on the outside runs that are so important for a speed back, gaining only 134 yards on 35 carries to left or right end. That is a tiny 3.8 average.

What we have in Johnson is a back in decline. It seems unlikely that trend will reverse itself. His body has taken the pounding of 2,193 touches from scrimmage. The human body can only take so much punishment before there are irreversible effects. The history of running backs in the NFL shows that.

Incredibly, Johnson is set to have the 11th highest cap hit among running backs in the league in 2015 at $5.25 million (#Idziked). Cutting him would make Johnson count just $1.75 million against the cap. That would save $3.5 million.

In the NFL, the goal is to always try to get younger, cheaper, and better. It's difficult to hit that trifecta. In this case, one can only hope this front office could do that. The Jets shouldn't pay top dollar for somebody who won't be very productive. I'm not even going to talk about Johnson's recent weapons related arrest because I don't see any case for his return based on purely football merits.