Chris Johnson is set to be released by the Tennessee Titans on Friday, according to ESPN. Johnson's release is only a mild surprise. The 28-year-old running back was set to cost $10 million against the salary cap in the fourth year of the six-year, $55 million deal he signed before the start of the 2011 season. Johnson's declining productivity made the contract untenable for the Titans.
UPDATE: It's official, Johnson is no longer with the Titans:
BREAKING: The #Titans have officially informed RB Chris Johnson he’s being released, per sources. The C.J. era is over in Tennessee.— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) April 4, 2014
Johnson is one of only seven NFL running backs to ever rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. He became the second-youngest player to accomplish the feat when he rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009 at 24 years and 102 days old. Johnson appeared on pace for a Hall of Fame career, but his numbers petered out. Though 2010 was a good year by the standard of most running backs, Johnson's yards per carry fell from 5.6 to 4.3 on his way to 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing.
The Titans signed Johnson to a big extension, but his numbers dipped again. In 2011, his yards per carry dipped to 4.0 and he had a career-low four rushing touchdowns. An improved 2012 then gave way to a bad 2013. Johnson hit another career-low rushing for 3.9 yards per carry last season, putting himself on the block for his eventual release.
Johnson will turn 29 in September. Kenneth Arthur noted earlier this week that 29 has been an unkind age for the league's past 2,000 yard rushers.
Johnson is entering his age 29 season. Peterson just turned 29 himself, so we're not sure yet how the rest of his career will turn out. Lewis rushed for 1,002 yards when he was 29 and retired one year later. Simpson led the NFL in rushing when he was 29, but sputtered out after three more lackluster seasons. Dickerson was a Pro Bowler at 29, but a role player for the four years following. As noted before, Davis was an injury mess when he turned 27. And Sanders, being that he was possibly the greatest of all-time, rushed for 2,053 yards when he was 29 and got out one year later when the getting was good.
Still, Johnson has yet to rush for fewer than 1,000 yards in a season, and will likely be signed off the free agent market in due time, albeit for far less than the $10 million he would have made this season with the Titans. Wherever he lands, he may not be guaranteed a starting role. Johnson is not fully healthy at the moment. He underwent a procedure to clean up his knee, and may fail his physical Friday, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
Upon Johnson's release, the Titans' depth chart will be topped by Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle. Given that both of those backs have had their struggles recently, the Titans may try to address the position in May's NFL Draft.