The Tennessee Titans Should Cut Star Runner Chris Johnson

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistJanuary 15, 2013

Chris Johnson has to go.

Johnson isn't a bad player or a bad person, but he has to go.

The Tennessee Titans are faced with a difficult decision when it comes to their star runner. On one hand, Johnson is one of the team's biggest stars and has produced at least 1,000 yards in all five of his seasons.

On the other hand, Johnson is the quintessential boom/bust runner whose final season totals don't reveal how unreliable he is from game to game. In eight of the 16 games he played, he picked up fewer than 60 yards rushing.

In just under a month, the Titans will have to decide whether or not to pay Johnson $10 million to play in 2013. That's an enormous sum for a 1,200-yard back who averaged under three yards a carry in seven different games last year. They can save $9 million by parting ways with him before February 9.

Johnson simply doesn't fit with the direction the Titans are moving with Jake Locker.

Tennessee is in the process of incorporating Steve McNair 2.0 into the offense. Locker bears great similarities to the famed Titans quarterback of the late-1990s and early-2000s. He struggles some with his accuracy, but makes great plays with his legs and has a big arm.

Of course McNair leaned heavily on the running of Eddie George, especially early in his career. While George was overrated in many ways, he was consistent. He could be counted on for his 3.5 yards a carry week in and week out. That kind of mediocre consistency creates a dependability around which you can build an offense.

Johnson offers none of that to the Titans. His big carries are breathtaking, but his runs for losses kill drives. He's a great weapon, but Tennessee doesn't seem to be building the kind of offense that will take full advantage of everything he has to offer. Locker doesn't have the accuracy to move the chains consistently if put in bad down/distance situations.

Age is going to be an issue soon as well. Johnson will turn 28 in the 2013 season. He likely still has two to three solid years left in him, but he's also the kind of player who relies entirely on his speed. Once he loses even a step, his value will plummet.

Ultimately, the question is whether the Titans can replace Johnson's production for less than the cost of keeping him. They've only accounted for only a small part of his $20 million signing bonus, so it would cost a couple of million extra against the cap to let him go.

The issue comes down to real-world dollars. The money they gave him in 2011 is already gone and shouldn't be factored in. Moving forward, they have to decide if Johnson is worth the big money next year and the years after.

It's highly doubtful Johnson would land a $10 million a year deal on the open market, meaning the Titans are currently overpaying.

The team would be smart to cut bait now, accept the slight cap hit and move on in a different direction.

Of course, with Mike Munchak's job on the line, they'll probably do the opposite of smart.

It's unlike Johnson goes anywhere. He's still productive enough to sell keeping him to a fanbase anxious to win in 2013.

Instead of getting right with the cap and freeing up resources for the future, the Titans will keep rolling the dice with Johnson.

If they bust, everyone's job goes boom.