NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Chris Johnson is looking to quickly prove his critics wrong.
The New York Jets signed the former Titans running back Wednesday, a little over a week after he was officially released by Tennessee.
Johnson met with the Jets all day Tuesday – the first team he visited – and stayed in town to watch the Knicks-Nets game in Brooklyn before signing Wednesday. The Jets announced the move, but didn’t release terms.
In a text message to The Associated Press, Johnson confirmed it was a two-year deal.
“I have a fresh start,” Johnson told The Tennessean. “Now I am going to go out there with a chip on my shoulder. I know a lot of people are doubting me.”
Johnson was told by the Titans of their decision April 4, ending a six-year stint in Tennessee during which he became one of the NFL’s most exciting running backs. The former 2,000-yard rusher will team with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell to give coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg a deep and dangerous backfield.
“I still have it,” he told The Tennessean, adding, “I don’t know if the Titans think I am running out of gas or not; we really never had any conversations.”
The Jets also have Mike Goodson, who is dealing with legal issues and recovering from torn knee ligaments.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the Jets,” Johnson told the team’s website. “There was some thought into this, but just at the end of the day, I was comfortable here. I just felt like it was the right situation.”
While his days as a workhorse running back – he carried the ball over 300 times in each of the 2009 and 2010 seasons – might be over, Johnson could be the perfect complement to the bruising Ivory and versatile Powell. In Mornhinweg’s first season as offensive coordinator, the Jets finished sixth in the league in rushing last year with Ivory and Powell sharing the load.
Despite the solid production, New York still entered the offseason aiming to improve the position with a big-play runner.
That’s exactly what they’re hoping to get in the speedy and durable Johnson, who turns 29 in September and is only the sixth player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons.
“I see this as a team on the rise,” Johnson told newyorkjets.com. “This is a winning team.”
But there have been questions about whether he’ll ever be the same player who rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, when he earned his “CJ2K” nickname.
Johnson finished with 1,077 yards – the second-lowest total of his career – and a career-worst 3.9-yard average last season. He also rushed for 100 or more yards just twice.
The Jets held Johnson to just 21 yards on 15 carries in their 38-13 loss last season at Tennessee, but Johnson gouged them for 122 yards on 21 carries, including a career-best 94-yard touchdown run, in 2012.
The splashy move is reminiscent of the one the Jets made in 2010, when they signed an aging LaDainian Tomlinson, who turned out to be a useful role player. While being deliberate throughout free agency, general manager John Idzik has now signed arguably the three best players available at their positions in Johnson, quarterback Michael Vick and wide receiver Eric Decker.
New York also showed early interest in free agency in running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Donald Brown, but they signed elsewhere.
The Titans cut ties with Johnson, making him a free agent, to avoid paying the $8 million he was due for this season, along with the final three seasons left on the $53.5 million contract he signed in September 2011. Johnson, who set several franchise and NFL records during his time in Tennessee, repeatedly said he wouldn’t take a pay cut this offseason.
That prompted the Titans to unsuccessfully explore trade options this offseason- including with the Jets – before releasing him. Johnson’s exit appeared inevitable when Tennessee signed Dexter McCluster to a three-year deal and re-signed Leon Washington to join Shonn Greene in the backfield.
“The Titans were ready to move on,” Johnson said in his interview with The Tennessean. “They didn’t want me anymore. But everything is going to work out.”
Johnson was the 24th overall pick in the 2008 draft out of East Carolina, and had never missed a game because of injury – despite having surgery after the season to repair a torn meniscus that he played with most of the year.
He has 7,965 career yards on 1,742 carries for a 4.6-yard average, including 50 touchdowns, and ranks third on Tennessee’s franchise rushing list behind Eddie George and Earl Campbell. Johnson also has caught 272 passes for 2,003 yards and eight TDs.
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