Unless the Tennessee Titans begin using him in a manner he deems apporpriate, running back Chris Johnson says he'd rather be suiting up for another team next season, according to Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean.
Whether the Titans will retain Johnson and the $8 million he's owed in 2014 has been a hot topic in Nashville, and the three-time Pro Bowler weighed in on the subject this week.
"I feel like if they are not going to use me the way I am supposed to be used and let me be the horse, then I would rather them let me move on," Johnson told Wyatt. "Their money would be wasted on me. I feel like if they are not going to use me right, let somebody get me that’s going to use me the right way."
Johnson, who said he has not requested a trade and insisted he never quarreled with former head coach Mike Munchak, wants his payload to increase. After averaging 337 carries in 2009 and '10, he has dipped below the 300 mark in each of the last three seasons. Johnson had 279 carries in 2013 and said he wants to get back to the 300-range.
Johnson's declining production in recent seasons hardly warrants increased touches, however. Since breaking the 2,000-yard barrier in 2009, he has not passed the 1,400 mark in any of the the four subsequent seasons. He rushed for only 1,077 yards and a career-low 3.9 yards per carry in 2013, all while getting paid like one of the league's premier backs.
"People say, ‘He is not worth the $10 million, he is not worth the $8 million.' I feel like if you give me $8 million, let me earn it," Johnson countered. "At crucial times of the game, I shouldn't be on the sideline watching."
Johnson is no doubt referring to his menial workload on the goal line. The speedy but diminutive halfback was routinely subbed for the sturdier Shonn Greene in short-yardage situations in the red zone.
Johnson's monster 2009 season earned him a similarly monster contract that guaranteed him a whopping $30 million over six years, but with that season looking more and more like an outlier, the Titans could be preparing to cut their losses -- reworking his contract is apparently off the table, as Johnson recently stated there was "no way" he would take a pay cut.
They could look into trading him, but any potential deal would be saddled by his exorbitant contract, and it seems unlikely another team would be willing to take on that burden, much less give up valuable pieces to do so.
The more likely move would be to release him, allowing him to test the free agency market.
While the ever-decreasing importance of the feature back and Johnson's probable insistence on a big contract would diminish his suitors, there will likely be a team somewhere in the league willing to splurge in the hope that a change of scenery will return him to a previous form. Working in his favor is the weak running back free agent class scheduled to hit the market this offseason -- Ben Tate is the only truly appealing member of a group that includes a declining Maurice Jones-Drew and the always-injured Darren McFadden.
The Raiders will be trying to replace McFadden, though the most likely candidate for that job is already on the roster (Rashad Jennings). Jacksonville could give Johnson a fling, but it seems unlikely the Jaguars would trade one struggling back for another, and may instead choose to build through the draft.
The most obvious backfield hole is in Cleveland, where the Browns didn't have a single rusher top the 400-yard mark after trading away former first-round pick Trent Richardson.
Where Johnson will end up next season is still very much in the air, but it's looking less and less likely it will be in Nashville.
"No disrespect, I love Tennessee and would love to be in Tennessee," he said. "But I feel like I am wasting the prime years of my career if I am not used right. You feel me?"