Yesterday, Chris Johnson signed a one year contract for the Jets that contains a team option for 2015. If picked up, both years would pay Johnson $4 million/year with incentives that could earn him another million. There is $3 million in guaranteed money and $1 million in salary in 2014, which makes his cap hit only $2.5 million this year. The signing culminated a long process, one where the Jets would try to trade for Johnson, then waited for his release, then waited for Johnson to check the market with a visit finally coming on Tuesday. When Johnson left Florham Park on Tuesday evening to shop the Jets offer, there were a lot of people who thought he wouldn’t sign but just a day later he is a Jet.
Why is Chris Johnson here? I’ll start by what he isn’t here to do, which is the starting, feature back. Johnson will have a role, a large one at that, in a trio of running backs that all bring something a bit different to the table. Chris Ivory is the bruiser between the tackles, albeit one with a good burst to get to the next level. Powell can pass block well, catch the ball out of the backfield and run as a change of pace back. Powell’s role will be to back up both Ivory and Johnson. Johnson is here as the home run hitter.
Johnson is the player that can catch a screen pass and take it for a score or hit that crease during a carry and not look back. Johnson is the speed back the Jets haven’t had in a long time. Johnson has never had less than 1,000 yards in any season and never less than 36 catches. He has been incredibly durable, only missing one game in six seasons. You say Johnson only averaged 3.9 yards per carry, is 29 and is on the downside of his career. I say that lessening his carries and defining his role to what he does well is exactly what he needs to rejuvenate himself. Last year he played through a torn meniscus which was corrected with a minor surgical procedure in January. Even in this “down” year, Johnson had 1,424 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. The threat of Johnson in the passing game or getting the ball in any space changes how teams have to defend the Jets and frees up the other offensive options to have better, more advantageous match ups.
So far in free agency the Jets have signed, arguably, the number one ranked running back, quarterback and wide receiver, giving themselves a little more freedom in the draft. Rest assured that they will target a tight end and another wide receiver in a quest to bolster the offense. The offense right now is light years ahead of last year’s group and it will only get better. Chris Johnson is another piece to the puzzle.