Thursday, March 20, 2014
No need for Rams to pursue Johnson
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Anytime a well-known NFL player is about to become a free agent or lands on the trading block, it's something of a tradition for that player to be instantly connected to any team that might have some sort of past connection to him.
It's a practice that is silly on the surface but considering how often such potential pre-ordained marriages come to fruition, it's worth having the conversation. The St. Louis Rams under coach Jeff Fisher offer plenty of proof of that practice.
Chris Johnson and Rams coach Jeff Fisher have a history together, but the running back may not be interested in sharing the load in St. Louis.
Now, there's another Titan in the news, one who just so happens to be another favorite of Fisher's: running back Chris Johnson. ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder reported Wednesday that Tennessee has garnered trade interest in Johnson, meaning the Titans might not have to outright release him.
Johnson said earlier this year that he would be open to a trade after complaining of underuse by the Titans. Although Johnson is scheduled to make $8 million in 2014, there has been speculation that he would not be willing to adjust that figure in the right situation. Logically, Johnson would rather be released so he can shop his services to the other 31 teams.
Regardless of whether the Rams could get Johnson at a reduced rate after his release or in a trade for a late-round pick, it's a move that they should avoid despite the obvious connections between the sides.
First and foremost, the Rams have their primary running back in place in Zac Stacy, who is coming off a solid rookie season in which he rushed for 973 yards and eight touchdowns despite not becoming the starter until Week 5. The Rams offense fared much better after Stacy stepped into the mix and became the bell cow for the offense.
Stacy did, however, struggle with nagging injuries which never cost him long stretches or multiple games but were enough to land him on the sidelines for parts of games. But even if you operate under the assumption that Johnson would be a complement to Stacy, the Rams also have another second-year back who flashed the ability to handle the job in Benny Cunningham.
Cunningham had limited opportunities behind Stacy but stepped in against Chicago in week 12 and rushed for 109 yards on 13 carries. Another year removed from injury, Cunningham should only be better in 2014.
Beyond the two backs already in place, if the Rams want to add to the position and replace an Isaiah Pead or Daryl Richardson, why not simply do it through the draft?
Johnson is 28 and had surgery on a torn meniscus in January. He rushed for 1,077 yards with an average of 3.86 yards per carry. The player who rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009 has been nowhere to be found in the past three years. And even if the Rams did want to pursue him, who is to say that Johnson would be OK with a timeshare alongside Stacy? Or that he'd take a contract so affordable the Rams could make it work?
In the 2013 offseason, the Rams said goodbye to an accomplished 29-year old running back whose best days were behind him. That running back was Steven Jackson, the franchise's all-time leading rusher. They did it because they knew it was time to get younger and alter the approach at a position where talent can be found. A year later, there's no need for that approach to change.