Rex Ryan's offense in New York last season was, in a word, dull. Without a player truly capable of being labeled a game-changer, the unit was lethargic and largely ineffective. Ryan is hoping the signing of Chris Johnson will change that.
The Jets agreed to a two-year contract with the former 2,000-yard rusher on Wednesday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Pro Football Talk reports the deal has a base value of $8 million with the possibility of up to $1 million in yardage incentives.
Johnson was released by the Tennessee Titans earlier this month after a string of respectable but underwhelming seasons in Nashville. He hasn't had more than 1,400 yards rushing since he became just the sixth player in league history to go over the 2,000-yard mark in 2009, and finished with a career-low 3.9 yards per carry in 2013. That said, Johnson's departure from Tennessee had a lot more to do with his price tag -- he was set to count $10 million against the salary cap in 2014 -- than his ability on the field.
At 29 years old, Johnson should still have something left in the tank to provide a spark to the moribund Jets offense, or at least that's what the front office is hoping. The team ranked 25th in total offense last year and were fourth from the bottom with a measly 18.1 points per game. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith had little in the way of reliable skill players to lean on, and struggled through an inconsistent first year as a result. Having already added free agent wideout Eric Decker to upgrade the passing game, the Jets are hoping Johnson can add another dimension on the ground.
The Jets were actually a very good rushing team last season, finishing sixth in the league with 134.9 yards per game. But behind Chris Ivory -- who surged back from a hamstring injury to lead the team with 884 yards -- the Jets ground attack was more bulldozer and less Corvette.
The question Jets fans are asking themselves is how many RPMs does Johnson have left in the engine? After putting up an unbelievable 22 carries of at least 20 yards in 2009, he's declined to 13, 11, eight and five over the following four seasons. Those five in 2013 were actually three fewer than Ivory's total.
One factor in that lack of explosiveness could be the torn meniscus Johnson played on last year that required surgery in January. That said, the Jets aren't too concerned about his durability -- he's missed just one game during his six-year career, and that was during his rookie season.
Ivory's presence will help ease the wear and tear on Johnson, who's averaged 278 carries over the past two seasons. The Jets will likely use the two backs as a complementary duo similar to the "Smash and Dash" system the Titans used years ago, with Ivory playing the role of LenDale White.
That leaves former fourth-round pick Bilal Powell buried on the depth chart. Powell had his starting gig wrestled away by Ivory last season and has averaged just 3.9 yards per carry over his three-year career in New York.
When Ryan was hired on as head coach in 2009, he staked his offensive identity on running the football. After all of the recent quarterback drama in New York, the signing of Johnson shows a commitment to returning to that formula. The Jets just have to hope Johnson is the missing component in the equation.