Chris Johnson: Best Fits for Potential Free-Agent RB

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystMarch 28, 2014

Chris Johnson: Best Fits for Potential Free-Agent RB

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    It wasn't that long ago, fresh off of a 2,000-yard season in 2009, that Chris Johnson was considered arguably the best running back in the NFL, a surefire superstar in the making.

    Now, it appears the 28-year-old is going to be looking for work.

    As Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports reports, after gaining a career-low 3.9 yards per carry in 2013, and due a base salary of $8 million this year, the Tennessee Titans will release Johnson next week after attempts to trade the seventh-year pro were unsuccessful.

    However, just because a trade couldn't be worked out doesn't mean there won't be interest in Johnson on the open market, especially because he should be available for a heck of a lot less than $8 million a season.

    With that in mind, here's a look at the handful of teams who make the most sense for the artist formerly known as "CJ2K."

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals were one of the NFL's more pleasant surprises last year, but a 10-win season ended with the disappointment of missing the playoffs.

    As the Redbirds try to take that next step and make the postseason in 2014, there's also a hole at running back in the desert, created by the sudden retirement of Rashard Mendenhall.

    Granted, much of that slack is expected to be taken up by second-year pro Andre Ellington, but head coach Bruce Arians admitted at the NFL owners' meetings that, "He (Ellington) is still not a guy who you will pound up the middle 30 times a game and survive," per Marc Sessler of NFL.com

    With Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor on the depth chart behind Ellington, the Cardinals could use some depth. It isn't hard to imagine Johnson as a 10-12-carry-a-game complement to Ellington, and with over $12 million in cap space, Arizona would appear to have the leeway to fit Johnson under the cap.

    With all of that said though, don't hold your breath. According to Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic, the Cardinals have "no interest" in Johnson.

    Of course, this wouldn't be the first time a team said one thing and then did the opposite, either.

Dallas Cowboys

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    As is the case every year in Dallas, the Cowboys have generated about $13 million in cap space after entering the offseason in the worst cap situation in the NFL.

    Of course, that cap space came at a high price, namely the release of star defensive end DeMarcus Ware.

    With Jared Allen choosing the Chicago Bears, the free-agent market at defensive end is just about dried up, leaving the draft to fill that need.

    However, Jerry Jones isn't about to leave money unspent, and there's been some scuttlebutt in recent weeks linking Johnson and Big D.

    Chris Wesseling of NFL.com is one of a number of pundits who have recently linked Johnson to the Cowboys, and while at first glance it may seem an odd fit, it could also be a good one.

    Yes, DeMarco Murray had by far the best season of his three-year career last year, but Murray has also missed time in each of those seasons. So much time, in fact, that there were reports just last October that the Cowboys were shopping for a running back.

    Johnson could serve as equal parts insurance policy and complementary piece for a Dallas team 32 kinds of desperate to get back into the playoffs.

New York Jets

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    The New York Jets have badly wanted to be big players in free agency this year.

    The Jets have been seemingly linked, at one time or another, to just about every prominent free agent on the market, but with the exception of quarterback Michael Vick, there's been a lot of swinging and missing.

    With that said, the upside of all of those "no's" is over $35 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

    The Jets expressed interest in free-agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew (who signed with Oakland), so it appears the team wants to add another back to combine with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell.

    Johnson could not only serve as that running back, but he'd also probably be the favorite to start for Gang Green.

    Vick, Johnson and DeSean Jackson (who CBS New York reports the Jets are also interested in) would make for a much different-looking offense than the Jets fielded a year ago.

New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots are the kings of the veteran scrapheap.

    Bill Belichick's tenure as head coach in New England has been littered with reclamation projects. Some have worked out. Others have not.

    Just last year, running back LeGarrette Blount joined those ranks, coming from nowhere to nearly lead the Patriots in rushing.

    However, now Blount is in Pittsburgh. Some have predicted that to mean a second chance for Stevan Ridley, who posted one more yard than Blount on the ground in 2013.

    Ridley also had fumbling issues that landed him squarely in Belichick's doghouse, and by the time the playoffs rolled around last year, it was Blount, not Ridley, carrying the load.

    The Patriots were rumored to be one of the teams to have inquired about trading for Johnson, per Darren Urban of the Cardinals' website.

    If he's released, that interest will likely rekindle. Belichick is about as into second chances as he is trust, honesty and three-piece suits, and struggles in 2013 or no, Johnson has gained 1,000 yards or more on the ground six years running.

Atlanta Falcons

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    In the opinion of the Titans' most plugged-in beat writer, Chris Johnson is most likely Georgia-bound.

    That's the word from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, who tweeted Friday that "his bet" is for Johnson to wind up a member of the Atlanta Falcons in 2014.

    Of course, that would mean that for the second straight year, the Falcons went the veteran route at running back.

    Last year, the team acquired Steven Jackson, who was supposed to fix Atlanta's ground game. Instead, Jackson missed four games and rushed for a career-low 543 yards, and the Falcons death-spiraled from 13-3 two years ago to 4-12 in 2013.

    Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution isn't ruling it out. In fact, while Bradley admits he's "thinking out loud," he believes "that Johnson wouldn’t be added to complement Jackson but to replace him."

    There's an old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but the Falcons, even after last year's debacle, consider themselves a contender.

    For a contender with over $13 million in cap space and an iffy backfield, trying the vet route one more time with Johnson might not be so crazy after all.