NFL Trade Speculation: How Well Does Chris Johnson Fit with Potential Teams?
For a 26-year-old running back who has rushed for 4,600 yards in his first three NFL seasons, the fact that he wants a star-powered contract is no surprise.
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is nothing shy of a an NFL superstar, and his $800,000 base salary in 2011 is the reason why he's currently holding out, making his case that his services are worth much more than that of a 2008 late-first-round rookie deal.
According to reports, Johnson is seeking a deal with $30 million in guaranteed coin, which really isn't out of the question for a young man who is on pace to pass Emmitt Smith as the NFL's all-time leading rusher in just under nine seasons.
The following is a quick analysis of how Johnson would fit in with potential suitors (i.e. those teams with sufficient cap room that could trade for CJ and sign him to a long-term deal, ala Kevin Kolb).
For cap numbers, I have used the numbers issued by Jason La Canfora of NFL.com. As mentioned by La Canfora himself, because of signings, cuts and restructuring, these cap numbers will constantly change all the way up until Week 1. Please understand that these cap numbers are used as a reference.
Cap Numbers Got You Down?
For teams that don't have the amount of cap space necessary to take on a superstar contract, you'll find their names here. Unless we see some magical performance by one of the team's financial officers, these guys are out of the CJ2K sweepstakes:
Not only is Darren McFadden the Oakland Raiders' running back of the future, he's also the highest-paid back in the league. Aside from some crazy move by team owner Al Davis, the Raiders are more than $15 million over the salary cap and would have very little interest in Chris Johnson.
Even if Rashard Mendenhall comes off as an idiot that has a problem with keeping argument-inducing comments to himself, the Steelers drafted him to be their workhorse for the better part of the next decade. Not to mention, the Steelers are way over the cap by about $9 million.
The recent injury to rookie running back Mikel LeShoure would make the Lions an interesting trade partner for Johnson's services, but unfortunately the team is over the cap by about $8 million, and they expect big things out of Jahvid Best.
As much as team owner Jerry Jones would like to land Johnson and place him with other playmakers like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys are over the cap by nearly $7 million, and they may already be star-studded out.
After the type of surprise season Arian Foster had last year (1,600 yards, 16 touchdowns), the Texans appear to be toward the bottom of the list of teams looking to land top running back talent. In addition to their current players, the Texans are almost $3.5 million over the cap, and their finance office would need to crunch some numbers.
But, We Already Have Our Franchise Feature
For teams that could possibly make the move for Johnson financially but happen to already have acquired or drafted their franchise running back, you'll find their names here. Of course, adding Johnson to any backfield would be a benefit, but let's assume teams are wise and understand the shelf life of running backs:
It seems like running back Steven Jackson has been in the league forever, but that's more than likely because the 28-year-old workhorse has more than 1,800 carries in seven seasons.
After watching Sam Bradford last season as a rookie quarterback, the Rams could have something pretty special going on in St. Louis. The team would also have a tough time signing Chris Johnson to a long-term deal with just $600,000 in cap space. For now, the Rams will call Bradford and Jackson their team.
More so than believing that the Giants have 100 percent confidence in Ahmad Bradshaw as their franchise running back, New York has very little cap space to work with ($623,000). But, to make things fair, Bradshaw just signed a four-year deal with the Giants, and he is expected to be a playmaker for that offense.
Although his bothersome groin injury appears to be staying quiet at this point, Michael Turner continues to pose an injury concern. I'm not saying the guy isn't durable or tough, but when you lead the league in carries in two of the past three seasons, the game is going to take a toll on you.
Even so, the Falcons are flooded with talent on offense right now, and their cap space is extremely limited.
Arguably equipped with the best running back in the league, the Vikings should be the farthest thing from interested in Johnson. Adrian Peterson has rushed for nearly 5,800 yards in four seasons, and he is undoubtedly the Vikings' best player.
After making such big moves in the offseason, the Panthers find themselves retaining their star running back and limiting themselves in further spending, both of which can turn out really well or really bad.
DeAngelo Williams was drafted by the Panthers in 2006 to become the team's franchise back. Since becoming the main man in 2008, Williams has held up to his end of the deal, rushing for 2,632 yards in 2008 and 2009. We'll see how Williams performs this year after missing 10 games last season to injury.
Without a doubt, Ray Rice is the man in Baltimore. Since 2009, Rice has racked up more than 3,800 yards from scrimmage, and he has proven his versatility and value. Although the Ravens are thin at running back (even after signing Ricky Williams to a one-year deal), I can't see the team moving things around to acquire Johnson.
Being a Longhorns fan and consistent fantasy owner of Jamaal Charles, it doesn't take much to realize just how good this guy really is. After signing his long-term deal last season, Charles is the featured back in Kansas City, and the team's $28 million in cap space will be used elsewhere.
The Saints have prepared themselves well at the running back position. After making a starter out of Pierre Thomas, drafting Mark Ingram (likely the future) last April and signing free agent Darren Sproles this summer to serve as the team's scat back, the Saints are unlikely candidates.
It's hard to count on the Eagles on any kind of player acquisitions after what they've done this summer, but I would assume that Andy Reid is content at the running back position. LeSean McCoy is the team's starter, and Ronnie Brown was signed as a very good backup/insurance policy.
The Eagles also drafted Dion Lewis, an undersized runner out of Pittsburgh who could really surprise some people.
Shonn Greene was drafted in 2009 to be the ground-and-pound style of runner Rex Ryan wants for his Jets team. With a little more than $8 million in cap space, the Jets could make a run at Johnson, but it doesn't appear likely.
Teams don't spend Top-10 draft selections on running backs without having huge plans for them, and the Bills did just that in last year's draft when they took C.J. Spiller ninth overall.
With Fred Jackson getting older, Spiller will likely be handed the keys by 2012, and the Bills would have no desire of landing Johnson.
After being forced to miss five games last season, Frank Gore enters 2011 with the thoughts of a new contract and a healthy recovery from a fractured hip.
According to reports, Gore is a believer in new coach Jim Harbaugh, he's confident that the Niners' front office will take care of him with a new deal and he's prepared to use the doubtfulness of fans to have a breakout season in 2011.
Maurice Jones-Drew is obviously the man in Jacksonville, but it's tough to count out a Johnson-to-Jacksonville rumor.
For one, Johnson would be returning to his home state of Florida. Secondly, Jacksonville has $28 million in cap space—plenty enough to make the move. And finally, the Jaguars could always use a marketing tool like Johnson to put more fans in the seats.
That being said, I don't think anyone is crazy or stupid enough to bring in a guy like Johnson and possibly disrespect a franchise name like MJD.
Jags are out.
And now we move on to the remaining 14 teams...
14. Washington Redskins
Mike Shanahan didn't earn his reputation by trading for big-name running backs; he earned his reputation by developing them.
Shanahan's current stint in Washington appears to be a perfect formula for what we're all so used to seeing him do. Whether it be welcoming back lead man Ryan Torain, drafting the explosive Roy Helu or trading for Tim Hightower, the Redskins seem to be on the right (and exciting) track to solidifying the position.
Although the Redskins have the necessary cap space to take a stab at Chris Johnson—and Dan Snyder would be more than happy to pay him a billion dollars—this Redskins franchise has fallen under a new and improved reign.
As much of a benefit as it would be to have Johnson in Shanahan's run-scheme, the Redskins are not a likely suitor.
Would Johnson take major pressure off inexperienced quarterback John Beck? Yes.
Would Johnson actually improve the Redskins' passing attack because of the threat he imposes on the ground? Sure.
But his playing in burgundy and gold is a distant dream.
13. San Diego Chargers
Equipped with one of the most promising young backfields in the NFL, the San Diego Chargers are a far reach for Johnson's services.
This season, 25-year-old running back Mike Tolbert is the old man leading the crew, followed by 24-year-old Ryan Mathews and 21-year-old rookie Jordan Todman.
Mathews was drafted 12th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, and he is viewed by the organization as the next franchise running back. Tolbert plays a great complement to Mathews, and the production from Todman is expected to be high when he sees the field.
Adding a guy like Chris Johnson could give the Bolts their most flashy name since Tomlinson, but the team's backfield already appears prepared for the future.
12. Indianapolis Colts
Do you think Joseph Addai thought about how much the Colts organization loved him when he was given a three-year deal worth $14 million?
Well, he should've. History shows the Colts aren't big on giving second contracts to good running backs, and Addai is the most recent exception.
However, in defense of the Colts' front office, it might just be that they don't like to pay their running backs a ton of money when they have arguably the best quarterback in the league.
Regardless of the reason, Addai should be happy to know that he looks to be a part of the team's near future.
If the Colts wanted to return to the glory days (not that recent times haven't been glorious) of Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, then using some of their $8 million in cap space to latch on to Chris Johnson would likely be the team's best option.
But even without the re-signing of Addai, the Colts have two promising young backs on their roster, including 24-year-old Donald Brown and rookie Delone Carter.
Maybe the re-signing of Addai had to do with keeping Manning's surroundings comfortable and familiar as he approaches the end of his career, in which case the Colts' front office would shy away from bringing in a big name and potential distraction in Chris Johnson.
11. New England Patriots
In order to keep the league fair and the chances of someone other than the Patriots winning the Super Bowl rational, perhaps we should scrap this idea all together.
But technically, the New England Patriots could probably swing a trade for Chris Johnson and lock him up for the long term.
New England is known as a place where players go and give it their all. Not that Johnson hasn't given it all he has in Tennessee, but I'm convinced that players' entire attitudes change once they get to New England and understand how realistic a Super Bowl title really is.
Currently, the Patriots have BenJarvus Green-Ellis atop their depth chart, which is solid for both New England and my fantasy team. But if Johnson somehow ended up in Foxboro, the Pats would have the deadliest offense in the league.
Imagine being a defensive coordinator and having to put together a game plan with the primary option of stopping Chris Johnson.
No, wait...stopping Tom Brady.
No, wait...stopping Chad Ochocinco.
No, darn it...we gotta stop Wes Welker in the slot.
Crap, wait...what about Aaron Hernandez?
If Bill Belichick somehow made this happen, I think he'd be
accused convicted of cheating.
10. Arizona Cardinals
Seeing as how the Cardinals already traded for a guy and treated him to a $63 million contract with $21 million guaranteed, I don't see why they couldn't do it again.
The Cardinals are well enough under the cap to acquire Chris Johnson from the Titans.
However, two crucial questions must be answered. One, what do the Cardinals do with third-year running back Beanie Wells? And two, what do the Cardinals trade for Johnson?
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has already announced that Wells is his guy, and bringing in Johnson would be a pretty swift kick to Wells. If the interest is made public, perhaps the Titans would be interested in Wells, because he'd be far from happy in Arizona by then.
Arizona made a helluva selection last April when they drafted Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams in the second round. Williams, who is originally thought to be the complement to Wells during his rookie season, could very well take over starting duties in the desert.
I don't like to jump the gun or use the crystal ball for these types of scenarios in fear of jinxing a young player, but I believe Williams is going to be a beast in the NFL. And when you look at the "problem" the Cardinals have of possessing two very good backs in Wells and Williams, well, I'd say that's a pretty good problem to have.
9. Miami Dolphins
Many were critical of the Miami Dolphins when they traded for Reggie Bush instead of trying to sign free agents DeAngelo Williams or Ahmad Bradshaw. But that's more than likely because people didn't realize the type of thunder-and-lightning backfield the 'Fins were attempting to build.
After having drafted the 230-pound Daniel Thomas in the second round of the draft, the Dolphins looked to add a complement back rather than a go-ahead starter, hence the Bush trade and not a Williams signing.
What the Dolphins have in mind for their backfield is an effective process, as we've seen numerous backfields in the NFL find success when going with a 60/40 approach on ball carriers.
However, there's no one in the Miami front office who wouldn't at least look over what it would take to land Chris Johnson.
Miami may have an effective building process right now, but let's face it, neither the unproven rookie nor the guy who is arguably a better receiver than a running back holds a candle to Johnson and what he could bring to the Dolphins' offense.
For a team with big questions at the quarterback position, an addition like Johnson would immediately boost the offense and relieve some of the pressure placed on Chad Henne.
With just about $8.5 million in cap space, the Dolphins could make a run on Johnson and attempt to bring him back home to Florida for a long time.
8. Denver Broncos
As I mentioned before, usually when teams draft a running back with a high pick, that player is thought to be the running back of the future. The Denver Broncos do not appear to be the exception.
According to the Denver Post, third-year running back Knowshon Moreno looks to be faster and in the best shape of his professional career. After getting into the swing of things in his rookie season, then battling hamstring injuries last year, Moreno is prepared to really show what he has in Denver this season.
In my personal opinion, I think the Broncos stick to their guns and feature Moreno as their franchise back. However, after the speculation of DeAngelo Williams-to-Denver over the early summer months, I'm a little questionable on the Broncos' commitment to Moreno.
Could this be crazy talk by me? Well, of course. Maybe the Williams-to-Denver talk was based solely off a reunion between new head coach John Fox and former player—but then again, maybe it wasn't.
Chris Johnson in Denver would be a benefit to most of the offense involved, more particularly quarterback Tim Tebow. Although Tebow hasn't been handed the keys just yet, I think it's a mutual feeling amongst most Broncos fans that the day will eventually come.
How about adding a guy like Johnson to a backfield that already has Moreno, then putting Tebow at quarterback with the comfort of knowing he has a 2,000-yard running back as his sidekick?
7. Chicago Bears
With Mike Martz running the offense in Chicago, the running back position plays a vital role in the success of the scheme.
Fourth-year running back Matt Forte has fit the mold quite well, showing skills to both run the ball effectively and catch it out of the backfield. But that doesn't imply that the Bears wouldn't be interested in acquiring one of the league's best rushers.
Although maybe not as effective a catcher as Forte, Johnson still poses a serious threat. Combine that with his amazing speed and elusiveness, and suddenly Johnson is the total package in the Chicago offense.
Forte is slightly banged up—even planning on sitting out the entire preseason in order to heal—and is still awaiting a contract extension. General manager Jerry Angelo has said extending Forte is a priority, but perhaps he hasn't thought about acquiring Chris Johnson.
6. Seattle Seahawks
If the Seattle Seahawks are serious about making 25-year-old Marshawn Lynch "their guy," then the team's chances of acquiring Chris Johnson are obviously much less.
But there's no doubt that Johnson would add a new dimension to the Seahawks' offense.
The Seahawks have drafted book-end offensive tackles with the team's first-round picks the last two years, the team added a center by way of the draft in 2009 and veteran guard Robert Gallery was signed over the summer—all moves that signify a focus on improving the offensive line.
Throw the 26-year-old Chris Johnson behind an up-and-coming offensive line, add some of the best football fans in the country and don't forget about the player's coach, Pete Carroll, and you've got your team a recipe for something fierce.
5. Green Bay Packers
This may be one of the most exciting discussions amongst all of the Chris Johnson trade speculation. Imagine the reigning Super Bowl champions adding a weapon to their offense unlike anything they've ever seen.
Current Packers running back Ryan Grant is returning from a serious ankle injury, one in which torn ligaments forced him to miss the final 15 games of last year. On top of that, Grant is due to make $3.5 million in the final year of his current deal.
Before last season, Grant rushed for 1,200-plus yards in back-to-back seasons and racked 23 touchdowns in his first three years. All seems well for Grant and the Packers IF the injury doesn't linger.
According to Grant, he feels like he added a year to his career by sitting out last season and using his time wisely to heal properly. However, those words will speak for themselves when he takes the field this season.
If the Packers aren't completely satisfied with Grant or do not see him as part of future plans, the team has the cap space and trade bait to acquire Chris Johnson.
If there were ever a perfect example of the rich getting richer, Chris Johnson joining Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley and an improving offensive line would be it.
4. Tennessee Titans
Without doing much research, I'd say Chris Johnson is one of the best players to ever put on a Tennessee Titans uniform. But, for whatever reason, the team doesn't feel obligated to pay Johnson a fair salary.
Not being a Titans fan or avid follower, it may be that I don't know all the little details that, say, a diehard Tennessee fan would know. But on the surface, Johnson appears to be a once-in-a-decade player the Titans happened to scoop up and get very lucky on.
Not only has Johnson already put up a 2,000-yard rushing season (2009), but the Titans are also very consistent in putting the ball in his hands—all the time.
In just 47 games, Johnson has already amassed 925 carries and 137 receptions. That kind of workload alone is worth more than the crumby $800,000 he is set to make in 2011.
From a football standpoint, from a marketing standpoint and from a fair and responsible business practice standpoint, the Tennessee Titans should handle this issue very fast.
If the Titans plan on keeping Johnson and having him retire in powder blue, then sign him now and put the water under the bridge. If the Titans believe the shelf life of running backs isn't cost-effective and they can find another guy to handle the duties, then do the right thing and trade him away.
3. Cleveland Browns
Before the Dawg Pound discovers my IP address and hunts me down, hear me out on this one.
To my surprise, I've talked to a few people who believe Peyton Hillis isn't going to be a consistent running back in the NFL.
That's right. Some people believe, whether they be ignorant or have psychic powers, that the Madden 12 cover boy is not going to be throwing up monster numbers for very long.
So, taking that point of view in to consideration (also whether it's Hillis' running style, his size, his fumbling, etc.), 2011 also marks a contract year for Hillis. Set to make $550,000 this season, Hillis is playing for his first big contract in the NFL, so he is playing for more than just wins this year.
In the case that Hillis sort of fizzles out in 2011 or shows signs of not being able to be the featured back on a team, then the Browns have a whopping $27 million in cap space to go after Chris Johnson.
Teaming up Chris Johnson with a (what I believe to be) youthful, exciting, up-and-coming team such as the Browns seems like a great idea. Sure the team still has Montario Hardesty, but would Mike Holmgren take the unknown over the proven?
And then, of course, there's the scenario in which Hillis has a phenomenal year and he's considered deserving of a big-time deal, or maybe Hillis has a decent season and is viewed as a great complement back. Either way, that wouldn't rule out Chris Johnson.
Can you imagine a backfield consisting of a bruising Peyton Hillis on one down, followed by the lightning in a bottle, Chris Johnson, on the next?
I think the Browns are a team that's headed in the right direction, and they have the possibility of catching Baltimore and Cincinnati on down seasons. Adding Johnson would be a solid pickup for the Browns, and I'm sure it would help sophomore quarterback Colt McCoy's progression.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
Like the situation in Green Bay, this Cincinnati scenario is a very intriguing one.
The Bengals' offense is under a big change in 2011 after the retirement of Carson Palmer and the departure of Chad Ochocinco. Suddenly, the Bengals' offensive skill players have undergone a youth movement, as all of them are within four years of their rookie seasons.
But then there's Cedric Benson.
Being a Texas Longhorn fan, I am also a fan of Cedric Benson. I loved him at Texas, I understood his issues in Chicago and I think he's made a pretty nice rebound in Cincy. But the truth of it is, Benson will be 29 in December, he was given just a one-year deal this summer and I honestly don't believe he's a part of this team's future after this year.
This doesn't happen often, but when it does, it can be a very valuable learning experience for a football team. And what that is, the Cincinnati Bengals are going through right now.
Andy Dalton is a rookie quarterback who will likely start. A.J. Green is a rookie receiver who will likely start. Lining up opposite Green is fourth-year receiver Andre Caldwell. Tight end weapon Jermaine Gresham is in just his second season.
And what this will eventually do is help the offensive unit grow together, likely making them a pretty dangerous threat a couple years down the road.
Then you think about adding a guy like Chris Johnson. Like the other playmakers in Cincy, Johnson would fall into that age where he would mesh with the other young players and be a major part of the team's future. Not to mention, Johnson's ability would immediately make every other skill position player's job easier, from Dalton's to Gresham's.
Whether head coach Marvin Lewis has his rookie quarterback in mind, or he just wants to add a new element to his offense, he has made it clear he wants a reliable receiving target out of the backfield. While Johnson may not be Marshall Faulk, he's a lot better than Cedric Benson.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I'm not sure there would be a better fit for either party when you talk about a scenario that could land Chris Johnson in Tampa Bay.
For starters, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently have the most cap space of any team in the league, so pulling off a trade-and-sign for a big-name guy like Chris Johnson isn't a difficult task.
Now, who/what the Bucs are able to give up in exchange for Johnson is for another argument.
Secondly, the Bucs are coming off a surprising 10-6 season in 2010, and head coach Raheem Morris preaches the fact that Tampa Bay is a team to fear. For those who don't buy it, take cover; this Bucs team has firepower, good blockers in the trenches and their head coach is a rising star.
Next, the youth of the Bucs team is unbelievable, referring back to the 10-6 season just a year ago. Starting quarterback Josh Freeman is 23 years old and really came into his own last year, passing for more than 3,000 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
During his rookie season last year, receiver Mike Williams pulled in 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. Although a veteran, tight end Kellen Winslow is still just 28 years old, and he has remained a reliable target in his first two years with the team, pulling in 884 yards in 2009 and another 730 yards last season.
Undrafted free agent running back LeGarrette Blount appeared in 13 games last season for the Bucs, and racked up more than 1,000 yards on 200 carries and scored six touchdowns.
Needless to say, the offensive nucleus in Tampa Bay is very much alive and very promising. Adding another playmaker on the right side of 30, such as Chris Johnson, would take this offense to a whole different level.
You want to keep Blount around as a complement? Go for it. But the threat of Johnson in the backfield, Williams down the sideline and Winslow in the middle would cause enormous headaches for defensive coordinators.
Third, I'll ask the question regarding LeGarrette Blount: One-hit wonder or diamond in the rough? That'll be one of the most intriguing topics for the Bucs going into this season. How will Blount answer the call as clear-cut starter?
Blount also carries a larger frame than most starting tailbacks, standing 6'0" and weighing almost 250 pounds. Will that affect his longevity?
And finally, acquiring Chris Johnson would bring his talents back to his home state—close enough for his family in Orlando to become full-time Bucs fans and travel to his games eight out of the 16 football Sundays in a season.
The potential output of a team with so many great young talents is frightening. And maybe the most exciting part about it all is that this squad probably wouldn't peak for another year or two. By adding a guy like Chris Johnson, I think the Bucs easily grab at least another two wins.
At the end of it all, this was created for pure entertainment. Although the financial numbers were real and my opinions were honest, the truth of the matter is that any team would benefit by adding a guy like Chris Johnson.
Unfortunately in the NFL, running backs are considered washed up and done when they hit 30 years old. Unlike quarterbacks that can play well into their late thirties, running backs are forced to make their money and submit their legacy between the time that they're drafted and about 29.
For a guy like Johnson to come in and immediately crush the league, appearing in three Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, he has almost hurt himself. Obviously Johnson is a guy that puts it all on the field every game, and that's respectable. But the 2,000-yard season that he had in 2009 isn't as satisfying to other team's front offices as it would be if Johnson flirted with 2,000 yards and maybe had the potential to hit the record with another team. In other words, the anticipation of a record-breaking season with a new team is more appealing to that particular front office than looking back on his record-breaking season.
None of that is to say that Johnson couldn't rush for 2,000 yards again, or maybe even twice more. But I'd be hard-pressed to think of a general manager that looks to acquire Johnson and truly believes that he has a shot at hitting 2,000 yards for the next six seasons.
The benefit of having a guy like Chris Johnson on your team is matchup issues, preparation difficulties for other teams and being able to overload opposing defenses with talent at every position. Not to mention, lining a guy like Johnson up in the backfield makes life a whole lot easier on the quarterback, which in turn helps the whole team.
Hopefully Johnson can get this worked out and return to the football field. When holdouts like this happen to as talented a player as Johnson, it's a loss and cheat to both fans and players alike. Being one of the best players in the game today with the potential of being one of the best to ever play, Chris Johnson needs to be with a team that supports and fairly compensates him.