UPDATE: The New York Jets have signed Johnson to a 2 year contract
The New York Jets hosted running back Chris Johnson at the team facility yesterday. The general feeling is that a deal could be completed relatively soon. If the Jets do wrap up Johnson, it would be a smart addition to their backfield.
Yes, this is under the assumption that John Idzik will get the deal done at the “right price.” Considering the amount of time Johnson has already spent on the free agent market and the Jets spending habits under Idzik, it isn’t logical to foresee any type of outlandish deal.
So why be “in” a Johnson addition? Let’s start with the negatives. Since his historic 2009 season, Johnson has been inconsistent and the general level of his play seems to be trending downward. He has six full seasons under his belt with 250+ carries and at least 35 receptions. There is tread on his tires. His level of effort and attitude has been questionable at times. It would not be sensible to expect Johnson to carry the load for your offense on a weekly basis. He has too many negative runs and doesn’t hit the hole on inside runs enough to merit being a primary ball-carrier, week in and week out.
On the other hand, Johnson was banged up last season and still managed 1,077 rushing yards, 345 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns behind a shaky offensive line. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell combined for 4 touchdowns last season for a little perspective. He has ran for over 1,000 yards in all six of his NFL seasons and missed exactly one game throughout his entire career. He is a flawed player in many ways but still explosive in the open field and a very legitimate weapon in the passing game. In 2012, he had 1,243 yards on 4.5 yards per carry, with 36 receptions. The Jets haven’t had a running back over 1,200 yards since 2009.
Part of embracing a Johnson signing is being blunt about what the Jets currently have at running back. Chris Ivory is an immensely talented runner who has the physicality and explosiveness to be a lead runner. However, he offers nothing in the passing game and is not durable. It is unreasonable to expect him to give the Jets 16 healthy games next season. Bilal Powell is a jack of all trades who he excels mostly as an inside runner but is competent in the passing game as well. He is a notch above being a JAG (just a guy), you don’t not bring in Chris Johnson because you have a runner with 1,155 career yards at 3.9 YPC with 5 total touchdowns.
The thought process behind adding Johnson is this: you are adding a playmaker to an offense short on them. You are relying on Marty Mornhinweg to design plays that will get him in space, particularly in the screen game. Seriously, when is the last time the Jets had a running back who did something like this on 3rd and 7? You aren’t asking Johnson to give you 20 touches per game, you are looking for 7-12 touches that optimize his skillset.
Similar to how people have incorrect conceptions about wide receiver positions, they seem have similar ones about running back. This isn’t Madden, where you have a WR1, WR2, FB, HB on every single play.
For example, this is one of the Mornhinweg’s favorite passing formations. The Jets ran this a ton last year, particularly on third downs. The running backs lined up in the wing spots were most frequently Tommy Bohanon and Bilal Powell. You are upgrading when you make those wings Chris Jonson and Bilal Powell. You now have two quality receiving halfbacks to use in your various formations and make your offense more difficult to prepare for.
Don’t think of a Johnson as a traditional running back, think of him as a needed weapon to boost the Jets passing game and provide speed to the outside.