The Titans seem to have settled the most high profile holdout of 2011 by giving Chris Johnson what he wants: a monster contract. While some may say that signing a running back, any running back, to such a monster contract is a mistake, I think the Titans made the right move.
First of all, Chris Johnson is the offense. Even when he under-performs, it helps the team. Last year, Johnson rushed for a respectable 1,364 yards. He did this while regularly facing eight guys in the box. Had Tennessee taken advantage of this and passed the ball when defenses committed so many players to the run, Jeff Fisher might not be out of a job.
When defenses get ready to face Johnson, they become a lot easier to pass against, and when they finally start to respect the pass, Johnson can do what he does best. Having Johnson on the team simply makes the whole team better.
Second, new head coach Mike Munchak plans on overhauling the offense, and having Johnson there in training camp to learn this new offense is critical. The Titans, as always, want to win now, and they'll need Johnson to know the new offense if they stand much of a chance.
Since the Titans already invested a fourth-round draft pick in Jamie Harper—a 235-pound smash to Johnson's dash—Johnson clearly fits into their future plans. Harper's effectiveness would be minimized without Johnson there, too.
Third, the AFC South crown is there for the taking. How great would it be for Munchak to start his coaching career by winning the AFC South? It could very well happen. The Titans aren't a great team, but neither are the Texans or the Jaguars, and the Colts could have their offensive coordinator (Peyton Manning) out with an injury early on. It wouldn't surprise me if the Texans were all hype again, leaving the AFC South as very winnable if the Titans have Chris Johnson.
Fourth, Chris Johnson is that rare running back that may be worth the money. The NFL is becoming more and more of a quarterback's league, but there is still a place for the running back. Chris Johnson only had 245 receiving yards last season, but with Tennessee's quarterback controversy last season, that isn't bad. For comparison, Justin Gage only put up 11 more yards than that.
In 2009, on the other hand, Johnson put up 503 receiving yards, more than any other running back in the league. With Hasselbeck now a Titan, expect more consistency from Johnson as a receiver.
Whenever Locker is ready to start, Johnson's ability to catch will be even more critical. Rookie quarterbacks love tight ends because they're quick, close options to pass to and are easily completed. Passing to Johnson would be the same type of thing, except he can blister defenders after the catch with a 70-yard run if given the chance.
Last year, near the end of the season, Johnson looked almost like a superhero as he tried (in vain) to bail the Titans out of a fall-apart season. By himself, he wasn't enough, but it's clear that he wants his team to win. He also wants a better performance from himself. He wants to be acknowledged as the best running back in football. As long as he is seen as second fiddle to Adrian Peterson, he'll want more yards, more touchdowns and more wins.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for the Titans as an organization, Johnson is good for business. One thing that's easy to forget is that professional football is first and foremost a business. The Titans sell Titans tickets and apparel because people want to see Chris Johnson.
It's not every day that you see someone who is a legitimate touchdown threat whenever he touches the ball, regardless of where he is on the field. He's one of the most electrifying players in the sport, and that is reflected in sales.
The Titans make more money from Johnson than they do from any other player. So for them, his off-the-field performance (i.e., number of 28 jerseys sold) is just as important to the Titans as what he does on the field.
We don't yet know how much Johnson's new contract will be worth, but DeAngelo Williams signed a five-year, $43 million contract, so we know Johnson's contract will be bigger than that. That is a lot of money to spend on a running back, but in this case, it was the right decision.
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