Why Retaining Chris Johnson Would Be a Horrible Move for the Tennessee Titans

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Why Retaining Chris Johnson Would Be a Horrible Move for the Tennessee Titans
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

It's been quite a few years since the glory days of the Tennessee Titans, and ever since coming up a yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV, the team has been trying to recapture that magic.

A 6-10 season in 2012 was a significant step back in that regard and now it appears that a foolish financial decision may set the team back even further.

As Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports, the team is expected to exercise running back Chris Johnson's $10 million contract for 2013, $9 million of which becomes guaranteed this week.

Mind you, the 27-year-old remains a very good NFL running back. Johnson's 1,243 rushing yards in 2012 was the fifth time in five NFL seasons that he has eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground.

That total ranked ninth in the NFL in 2012, but when you compare Johnson's yardage and compensation relative to the NFL's other top running backs, you begin to see where the problem lies.

2012 salary data courtesy of spotrac.com and Rotoworld

Player

2012 Rushing Yards

2013 Salary

“Cost Per Yard”

Adrian Peterson

2,097

$10 million

$4,769

Alfred Morris

1,613

$480,000

$298

Marshawn Lynch

1,590

$7 million

$4,403

Jamaal Charles

1,509

$1.75 million

$1,160

Doug Martin

1,454

$700,000

$481

Arian Foster

1,424

$5.25 million

$3,687

Stevan Ridley

1,263

$650,000

$515

C.J. Spiller

1,244

$2.6 million

$2,090

Chris Johnson

1,243

$10 million

$8,045

Frank Gore

1,214

$3.3 million

$2,718

As you can see, using 2012 production and 2013 salary as benchmarks, Johnson offers by far the worst return on investment of any of the NFL's top 10 rushers from a season ago.

In fact, four of the eight players who rushed for more yardage in 2012 make at least four times less per yard than Johnson does.

In other words, Chris Johnson is grossly overpaid.

It gets even worse when you look at Johnson through the lens of the running back grades at Pro Football Focus. Of the 59 running backs that PFF graded in 2012, Johnson ranked 58th, ahead of only Darren McFadden of the Oakland Raiders.

Chris Johnson is good. He's just not $10 Million a Year Good.

This is a mess that the Titans got themselves into. Johnson held out before the 2011 season, searching for the big payday that eluded him after he rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2009.

The Titans caved and it's a decision they've regretted ever since.

In each of the past two seasons, Johnson has gotten off to miserable starts and a back who once exploded through holes now spends far too much time dancing around behind the line of scrimmage.

Johnson's supporters will no doubt point to that line as part of the problem, and you'll get no argument here. In October, PFF ranked Tennessee's offensive line 19th in the NFL and the guard position is a particularly sore spot.

However, overpaying a running back doesn't solve that issue. It aggravates it. You can't fix the lousy offensive line because you're throwing money away on a running back.

Should the Tennessee Titans Pay Chris Johnson $10 Million in 2013?

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I also get that the Titans are in a tough spot here. Overpaid as he may be, Chris Johnson is still the team's best playmaker on an offense lacking them and the odds of him taking a pay cut are probably slim to none—especially with the 2011 holdout still fresh in his mind.

However, when a team is rebuilding, sometimes tough decisions need to be made in the interest of moving forward.

Tennessee needs to approach Johnson and give him a simple choice: Restructure the deal, take a pay cut or take a hike.

Many fans may not like it, but it would be progress.

It's either that or the team can write the check and keep Chris Johnson as well as those fans happy.

Al least until another 6-10 season comes to an end.

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