Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson and the 2014 Salary Cap

Andy Lyons

The Tennessee Titans gave Chris Johnson his mega deal in 2011. With the off season looming let's look at whether or not it makes sense for the Titans to keep him.

It's been widely speculated that Chris Johnson has played his last down as a Tennessee Titan. The basis of this comes from his lack of production this last year compared against what he's due to make in salary next year. $8 million is the number normally thrown around for the running back, but let's take a closer look at what he's due to make, what the team can actually save and the options in place for them.

Chris Johnson has three years remaining on his mega deal contract and each year looks basically the same. He's due a total of $10 million for each of the next two years years with $8M in base salary and a $2M prorated bonus, with the base salary dropping to $7M in his final year . For those that aren't up on the terminology, the prorated bonus is the guaranteed money from the contract which becomes "dead money" if they cut him. The Titans owe CJ the $2M per year no matter what, and if cut, that money comes due all at once, and yes, counts against the cap.

So if the Titans cut CJ this year, they will pay him $6M to not play, wash their hands clean and move on. If they keep him, they will pay him $10M to play, but still owe him another $4M in guaranteed money. Basically costing $14M for this one year of play.

Free Agent Replacements

There's not a great cache of free agent running backs this year. The better known names already have a lot of wear on their wheels or an injury history to boot. It will be interesting to see how the market plays out for free agent running backs as the position is increasingly becoming devalued by teams in terms of monetary compensation.

1. Ben Tate
2. Rashad Jennings
3. Darren McFadden
4. Andre Brown
5. Knowshon Moreno
6. Maurice Jones-Drew
7. Rashard Mendenhall
8. Donald Brown
9. Ahmad Bradshaw
10. James Starks
11. LeGarrette Blount
12. Anthony Dixon
13. Toby Gerhart
14. La'Rod Stephens-Howling
15. Jonathan Dwyer
16. Peyton Hillis
17. Bernard Scott
18. Brian Leonard
19. Jackie Battle
20. Felix Jones
21. Ronnie Brown
22. Willis McGahee
23. Kahlil Bell
24. Deji Karim
25. Leon Washington

* List as per Rotoworld.

If the Titans target a free agent, they have up to $4M for the first year to make it a wash with what they would pay Chris Johnson. The question they will have to answer is whether or not they can you get a better back for less than that. Keep in mind that even if the money is a wash to begin with, the Titans would be unloading the cumbersome contract for the future.

The Draft

The new age of thinking is that teams can pick up a running back in the mid to late rounds of the draft on the cheap and just plug them in. While this is more of the exception than the rule, the right player that the Titans covet may fall to them in a later round this year. I would be surprised if the "right player" fell to them early in the draft, but you never know.

Falling in Place

We've yet to see what type of imprint Ken Whisenhunt will have on the team and the personnel decisions. That said, Ruston Webster has proven to be thorough at finding talent at different levels of free agency as well as the draft.

It wouldn't surprise me for the Titans to attempt all of the above and then make the decision on Johnson later. Pick up an upside serviceable running back to partner with Greene in free agency, and then wait for the draft. If the right guy falls in your lap and everything looks good, then you give CJ his money and part ways. If not, perhaps they keep him for one more year.

It's costly, but CJ could still be good insurance if the draft is where the TItans are targeting a replacement. If the Titans wait until next year to cut him, the price to walk at that point drops to $4M, making it easier and easier to swallow as time goes on.

Overall, I feel the $4M in cap space that would be freed up will be too inciting in a transition year between coaches. Not to mention freeing up the money for next year as well. Having $10M this year and a minimum $4M next year wrapped up in a play maker that's just not a play maker anymore doesn't make sense moving forward.

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