NEW YORK – Always fast on the field, Chris Johnson found a new job pretty quickly, too.
The New York Jets signed the former Titans running back Wednesday, a little over a week after he was officially released by Tennessee April 7.
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.
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 and tantalizingly fast 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.
The Jets also have Mike Goodson, who is dealing with legal issues and recovering from torn knee ligaments, and Alex Green.
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 getting 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. 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, including the regular-season finale in which he had 127 yards to go over the 1,000-yard mark.
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 but still productive LaDainian Tomlinson.
New York showed early interest in free agency in 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 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.
In a statement after being told of Tennessee’s intentions to cut ties with him, Johnson thanked the Titans organization and its fans.
“I have grown so much as an individual and as teammate over the past few years, and I am excited about the opportunity to bring my experience and talents to a new organization,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter and can’t wait to contribute to my new team.”
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 rushing list behind Eddie George and Earl Campbell. Johnson also has caught 272 passes for 2,003 yards and eight TDs.