Now four seasons removed from his historic 2,006 rushing yards that earned him the CJ2K moniker, Chris Johnson must hop on the first flight to Denver if he is to turn his diminishing career around as he heads into his aged-29 season.
It doesn't matter whether that means swallowing his pride and taking a pay cut in order to facilitate a trade or simply dragging his feet until the Tennessee Titans set him free—he just needs to make it happen.
The globe was first alerted to the fact the Titans would like to part ways with Johnson recently thanks to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, before Fox Sports revealed the maligned running back was willing to take a pay cut to make ends meet:
The #Titans continue to shop running back Chris Johnson to other teams, and there's some interest around the league— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) March 13, 2014
The response has been underwhelming.
NFL front offices aren't stupid. Johnson has a base salary of $8 million in each of the next two seasons before the number dips to $7 million in 2016, per Spotrac. Now pair those numbers with the league's shift to a committee approach and Johnson's output since the 2,000-yard outburst:
In all, the deafening silence makes sense. Even teams in need of a rusher have no interest—including Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams, according to ESPN's Ed Werder:
Source says there's trade interest inTitans RB Chris Johnson. But doesn't seem to me Rams or Cardinals involved despite RB need.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) March 20, 2014
It speaks volumes that Fisher, who brought Johnson into the league No. 24 overall back in 2008, seemingly wants nothing to do with him (although the emergence of Zac Stacy certainly plays a role, too).
One team that has shown no interest, made few moves and has an obvious need? The Denver Broncos.
Despite 1,039 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on a 4.3 per-carry average, not to mention another 60 receptions for 548 yards and three scores, the Broncos have let 26-year-old back Knowshon Moreno hit the open market.
Why? The organization will never openly say, but general manager John Elway's recent comments about having to improve are more than noteworthy given the circumstances, as captured by ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold:
“No question, we have to be better in the run game," said Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway. “... To keep our personality, our approach on offense, but to do better when we do run the ball."
Second-year back Montee Ball figures to be the starter, but who is to say Elway and Co. would scoff at the idea of bringing on Johnson if he hits the open market?
Johnson would surely love the opportunity. If Moreno, who before last season had never surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, 375 receiving yards or more than seven touchdowns in a given season, can go for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage in Denver—imagine what Johnson can do.
Should Johnson make Denver a priority in trade talks and potentially free agency?
CJ2K knows this all too well. Three- or four-wide receiver sets with wide-open running lanes are a dream come true for Johnson. While he is a tad overrated as a pass-catcher, the fit is obvious with that facet of the game being something Johnson can work on—and in a committee with Ball, a situational approach will mitigate the issue anyway.
In Denver, basic logic says Johnson would be well on his way to actually justifying his nickname. Sure, hitting free agency at all would be financially costly, but paired with Peyton Manning, Johnson would get something even more important than an individual number to brag about—a legit shot at a ring.