The man formerly known as CJ2K is clearly on his way out the door in Tennessee after six years of service, but he remains adamant that he'll play by the rules until something official happens, as he told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:
Yeah, I plan on being there. If I haven't been traded or released by that time, I will show up in Nashville and be ready to go from day one with the team. There's been a lot of speculation about the future, and where I'll be. But I am under contract with the Tennessee Titans. That's my team. And whatever team I am with when the offseason program starts, that is where I am showing up.
That's a classy route for Johnson to take despite the fact the Titans have left him twisting in the wind while all the free-agency cash for backs dried up.
After an extended wait, it appears Johnson will be on the move soon. Here's the latest.
The Trade Market is Strong...
Despite the dip in importance the position has taken over the years, there is obviously going to be a trade market for a running back who once eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards in a single season.
Of course, the price has to be right for both sides.
Now four seasons removed from his 2,006-yard outburst, Johnson is set to turn 29 years old and has a base salary of $8 million in each of the next two seasons, according to Spotrac. Despite diminishing numbers and a lofty cap hit, some teams have shown interest in making a deal happen, per 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
Perhaps more interesting is how teams view Johnson at this point. Were teams willing to inherit his contract of the mind that he is still a workhorse back after six years with a minimum of 251 carries per season and a ceiling of 358?
Or is Johnson merely relegated to a committee role at this point in his career as an elite change-of-pace option? Fans and Johnson himself are getting closer to finding out.
...But Nothing Appears on the Horizon
Just not via a trade.
The problem with this situation is rather simple. Tennessee likely wants a certain level of compensation in exchange for Johnson, but teams around the league are unwilling to meet that price with the knowledge that Johnson will soon hit the open market.
According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the Titans appear ready to dump Johnson before he can show up to offseason workouts on April 7:
Titans very likely to release RB Chris Johnson next week after failed trade attempts. Would draw strong interest as FA as DeSean Jackson did— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 28, 2014
This suggests Tennessee cannot find a team that so desperately wants Johnson that it is willing to cater to the Titans' demands. The interested parties seem content to take the chance on duking it out in a bidding war rather than giving up valuable future assets in exchange.
The Likeliest Suitor Has Already Emerged
Plenty of teams come to mind when one considers where Johnson may land after he reaches the open market.
One not high on the list? The Atlanta Falcons. Wyatt, who is intricately connected with the Titans, believes the Falcons are the top candidate to land Johnson if he's cut:
Will CJ2K end up with the Falcons?
The connection makes sense. Steven Jackson was miserable last year behind a horrible offensive line and only appeared in 12 games while battling nagging injuries. Jacquizz Rodgers is the change-of-pace back behind Jackson, but Johnson is a clear upgrade.
The thought of Johnson and Jackson in the same backfield would have struck fear into the entire league in 2009, and it still should to some extent if the two join forces. With defenses focused on an aerial attack led by Matt Ryan and a bevy of weapons, the tandem would run wild while helping to keep each other fresh.
Of course, anything can happen on the open market. But for now, Atlanta seems to be the front-runner of the CJ2K sweepstakes that appears on the horizon.