David Johnson Being Cut 'Not an Option,' Cardinals GM Steve Keim Says

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2020

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim is not open to the possibility of releasing running back David Johnson despite his struggles over the past few seasons.

According to Darren Urban of the team's official website, Keim said: "Cutting him is not an option." Keim then added: "You can't just have one back."

After averaging just 3.6 yards per carry in 2018, Johnson was unable to bounce back last season, as he rushed for just 345 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns in 13 games. He was also supplanted as the team's starting running back by Kenyan Drake late in the season.

Johnson is signed through 2021 and is set to make over $14.1 million in 2020 and $12 million the following year.

In 2016, Johnson was arguably the best running back in football, as he led the NFL in touches (373), total yards from scrimmage (2,118) and total touchdowns (20). He was named a Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro but has been unable to return to that level.

During the 2017 regular-season opener, Johnson suffered a dislocated wrist that forced him to miss the remainder of the campaign. Even so, the Cards signed him to a three-year, $39 million extension just before the start of the 2018 season.

In terms of average yearly salary, Johnson is the fourth-highest paid running back in the NFL behind only Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell, per Spotrac. That deal hasn't come anywhere close to paying dividends thus far.

Despite rushing for just 940 yards and seven touchdowns in a full 16-game season in 2018, there were high hopes for Johnson entering 2019 due to the hiring of offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury as head coach and the selection of quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Johnson set career lows in almost every major category, however, when taking into account seasons in which he played at least 13 games. He finished with 345 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, as well as 36 receptions for 370 yards and four additional scores.

He finished third on the team in rushing yardage behind both Drake and Murray, and he had only 42 more yards than Chase Edmonds.

Given how poorly he has played and how big his contract is, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will be able to find a taker for Johnson on the trade market. That means their only real options are to cut him or hope that he bounces back in 2020.

Drake seems like the Cardinals' No. 1 choice to lead the backfield next season, but he is a free agent, so there is no guarantee he will be back. Keeping Johnson on the roster will be a much easier pill to swallow if Drake signs elsewhere, although there is no guarantee that he will start regardless.

Edmonds had a game last season in which he rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns, so Johnson may have the lowest upside of any of the three running backs that could be on Arizona's roster next season.

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