- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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The Browns apparently weren’t among the teams that inquired about running back Chris Johnson before the Titans released the sixth-year veteran.
They would be wise to keep their distance now that the three-time Pro Bowler is on the open market.
Sure, Johnson won't be nearly as expensive as he would have been were the Titans able to trade him. And yes, Johnson, who was due to make $8 million in 2014, would be intriguing at the right price for a team that needs to add more skill players.
Unfortunately for the Browns -- and whoever signs Johnson -- they cannot turn back the clock a couple of years. And the reality is Johnson is nowhere near the same player who blazed his way to a 2,000-yard rushing season and averaged an eye-popping 5.6 yards per carry in 2009.
That was five seasons ago, which is an eternity for the NFL and especially running backs, and one statistic in particular clearly shows a player who is in decline.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Johnson’s runs of at least 20 yards dropped from 22 in 2009 to just 11 in 2011. The number slipped to five last season, a strong indication that the hits Johnson has accumulated while racking up six consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons have caught up with him.
Johnson may still belong on a short list of the NFL’s fastest players, and maybe he just needs a fresh start to rejuvenate his career. Even if that is the case, the Browns are still smart to stay away from Johnson unless they want their running backs room to be a potentially unhappy place.
Similarly, Johnson might balk at a reduced role.
Consider that he has accounted for 68 percent of the Titans’ rushing yards since 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No running back during that span has rushed for a higher percentage of his team’s rushing yards -- not even the otherworldly Adrian Peterson.
Johnson has become so accustomed to the role of No. 1 back that he needs to sign with a team that will at least give him an opportunity to start. The Browns, meanwhile, need to maximize the investment they made in Tate and see what he can do with a steady of diet of carries.
That is why they will watch from afar as Johnson tries to re-establish himself as a premier back.