Corey Griffin, TheJetsBlog.comChris Johnson remains a free agent, and that’s OK.
That isn’t what some of you want to hear. You’re tired of waiting. I can understand that. Patience is a virtue, particularly in today’s round-the-clock-and-calendar NFL. Not every is willing to wait for Week 1. They want it in April.
But John Idzik rushes for no man, and while we can certainly debate whether that was wise two or three weeks ago, there is no doubt it is the wise course of action now.
Teams are closer to the draft and further from the start of free agency, meaning most have filled already multiple holes on their roster, some with high-salary additions. The Jets are not in this class, but its existence benefits them.
The remainder of the league is looking to the draft, where cheaper, younger and more controllable assets reside by the boatload. One would tend to think, with three fourth-round selections, the Jets would be primed to add a speedy compliment to Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. You know, one that’s not currently facing felony gun charges and potentially multiple years of prison time.
For Johnson, this creates a problem. For one, he’s a running back. The position no longer requires a high-salary stud. The age of multiplicity and scheme flexibility demands a team have two, maybe three, options that can be deployed in various situations to create and then exploit weaknesses in the defense. Secondly, the teams looking for veteran help in the backfield have mostly spent their free-agent dollars on Donald Brown, Toby Gerhart, Knowshon Moreno and Ben Tate. And with the draft only three weeks away, the idea of adding a running back entering his age-28 season is not as appealing for most of the rest of the league.
Finally, of the teams reportedly originally interested in Johnson, only the Jets and maybe the Falcons appear immediate fits. The Bills and Cowboys have both dismissed by trusted local reports and even Atlanta’s original interest appears to have been at least exaggerated.
For the Jets, and specifically for Idzik, this creates leverage, a powerful thing in any negotiation, but particularly important when dealing with a veteran seeking a dollar value higher than that of his current on-field contribution.
Johnson is still a useful player and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could likely find a multitude of ways in which to deploy him. But he is no longer CJ2K. For all of his dependability and still-exciting speed, he remains a player on the downside of his career. There is no reason to overpay Johnson just to get him in the door, especially when there appears to be little-to-no market for him.
There’s also no reason for Johnson to sign anywhere unless that team meets his asking price, which I can guarantee is higher than the one Idzik is willing to offer right now. He and his agent, Joel Segal, are not amateurs at this game. Only three years into a bargain-rate rookie deal, Johnson held out into September while Segal negotiated a massive four-year, $53.975 million extension with the Titans that paid Johnson an average of $13.5 million a year. Johnson and Segal’s best bet is to set their price now and wait until someone is willing to meet it. If not, they can wait until a running back gets hurt (or arrested) during OTAs or minicamps and a team is sudden need of an immediate fix at running back. And if for some reason, every starting running back in the NFL enters training camp healthy, they can still land a palatable one-year deal to get Johnson on a team this year and back in the market from the very beginning next March.
While Johnson’s visit to Florham Park on Tuesday raised the antennae of the green-and-white panic police, there’s no reason to fret if he’s not back in the building when the team begins its offseason program Monday. Johnson is no rookie. He will stay in the best shape possible while the situation plays out and be ready to join a team when the right situation (read: contract) presents itself.
The Jets can let the market play out knowing that Johnson’s camp is aware of their interest, their price point and the team’s ability to offer him a solid number of touches both as a runner and as a receiver. If he signs elsewhere, so be it. Chris Johnson would make the team better, but he’s not the player that can sit out until September anymore.
For now, Johnson remains a free agent. And the Jets are still a team in need of a speedy back that offers game-changing ability. For now.