Chris Johnson Holdout: New Contract Makes Titans Contender in AFC South

Daniel BarnesCorrespondent IIISeptember 1, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 09:  Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during the NFL game at LP Field on December 9, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Chris Johnson's holdout finally ended on Thursday. He signed a four-year deal with the Tennessee Titans worth $53.5 million, with $30 million guaranteed.

The Titans may have paid too much for Johnson, but the end of his holdout officially makes the Titans into playoff contenders.

So far this preseason, Jamie Harper has looked promising and has given the Titans a potent rushing attack, even without Johnson. However, with Johnson reinstated as the No. 1 Titans running back, Harper stands to gain more than he loses.

Harper was drafted to be a third-down running back so that the Titans could return to the smash-and-dash rushing style that helped them win 13 games in 2008. Johnson was a critical piece of that rushing attack in 2008 and there's no reason to believe that Johnson will be any less dangerous with Jamie Harper than he was with LenDale White.

The Titans already have an elite offensive line—even the interior, where play was lackluster in 2010, seems to have already improved in the preseason thus far. An elite offensive line and a great couple of rushers means more wins.

To make things even better for the Titans, Matt Hasselbeck is a substantial upgrade over Kerry Collins. If the Titans could win 13 games in 2008 with Collins behind the wheel, they ought to be able to get to the playoffs with Hasselbeck as well.

Furthermore, things look pretty unsteady in the rest of the AFC South. The Colts have activated Peyton Manning, but I seriously doubt he's anywhere near 100 percent and I would be shocked if he made it through the whole season. They signed Collins out of retirement for a reason.

The Texans are everyone's favorite to win the division, but they are switching to a 3-4 defense and have been hyped up in the preseason for the last four years and still have nothing to show for it. I'm hesitant to give them much credit until they prove it on the field.

The Jaguars are weak at wide receiver, have a lame duck quarterback, are worried about Maurice Jones-Drew's health and still need some upgrades in their front seven.

With a smash-and-dash style rushing attack, an elite offensive line and an experienced quarterback, the 2011 Titans look awfully similar to the 2008 version of the team on paper. If Chris Johnson lives up to his contract, don't be shocked if the Titans end up with the AFC South crown.