Before running back Chris Johnson was even officially released, speculation began that the Dallas Cowboys would be interested in the soon-to-be free agent. While the Cowboys had reportedly spoken with the Tennessee Titans about a possible trade, Johnson signing with the Cowboys seems unlikely, and doesn’t make a lot of sense for either side. Cowboys sources have denied interest, but the “Chris Johnson to Dallas?” question won’t go away until he officially signs his next contract.
All things being equal, would it be nice for the Cowboys to add a 29-year-old running back who has never NOT rushed for 1,000 yards in a season? Sure. It sounds good. But things aren’t that simple.
First of all, the price isn’t right for Dallas. Johnson was due $8 million in 2014 before his release, and while he won’t get that type of money on the free market now, he’s still going to be looking for a nice payday, and the Cowboys wouldn’t last too long in a bidding war.
More importantly, Johnson really just doesn’t FIT in Dallas. DeMarco Murray is coming off his best professional season. Amongst backs who rushed for 1,000 yards or more, no one averaged more yards per carry than Murray. While he’s had injury concerns, and still hasn’t played a full 16-game season, he is entrenched as the starter, and the offense is at its best when he’s getting 18-20 (or more) carries per game.
If the Cowboys ENTIRE offensive philosophy changed, and they become a team that suddenly tries to run the ball 40 or 45 times a game (last year, they averaged a little over 27), then maybe there is a fit for Johnson. But, he isn’t the kind of back that is going to do you much good carrying the ball seven or eight times a game.
The best fit for Johnson IS in a platoon situation, but one where he’s getting the majority of the carries, not where he’s in a supporting role. He’s never been in that role before in his career, and why would he want to be now? There are numerous teams who could offer him more playing time and more carries. In Dallas, it’s Murray’s show.
There are also legitimate concerns about Johnson’s abilities. While Murray led all 1,000 yard rushers in yards per carry last season, Johnson was dead last amongst that group, with a career low 3.9 average. He also had the least amount of missed tackles caused (21 in 279 carries) amongst backs who saw “substantial action,” according to Pro Football Focus.
In fairness, Johnson revealed that he had been playing most of the season with a minor tear in his meniscus. While he says that it didn’t affect his production, my limited medical knowledge would lead me to still give him the benefit of the doubt that he can be better than he was in 2013, having undergone surgery in January to repair the tear. Still, he’s clearly not the same back that ran for 2,000 yards in 2010.
None of this is to say that Johnson isn’t a good player anymore, and that his career is over and he’ll never be good again the NFL. He just simply wouldn’t be good in DALLAS.
If Johnson would agree to take somewhere around the league minimum from Dallas, and accepted a lesser role, then I would absolutely snatch him up in a heartbeat. He would be a great insurance policy behind Murray. But that’s not going to happen. He’s going to go somewhere, and carry the ball 15-20 times per game. That place just isn’t going to be Dallas.