Durable veteran running back Chris Johnson was released by the Tennessee Titans after a morning meeting with general manager Ruston Webster April 4.
The sixth-year back, who some believe is in decline, has averaged 4.6 yards per carry since he was drafted in the first round out of East Carolina, including a 2,006-yard season in 2009, his second year in the league.
The Titans shopped Johnson in trade but his $8 million base salary was prohibitive.
"As an organization, we want to thank Chris for his contributions to the Titans," Webster said in a statement. "Chris produced many memorable moments, broke franchise records and was durable over his six-year career with our team. We have had an open dialogue with Chris' agent, Joel Segal, over the last few weeks, and we appreciate the patience and professionalism they have shown throughout this process. We made an effort to trade Chris but were unable to do so.
"We wish Chris the best and thank him for the six seasons he spent with us."
The New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns were hinted at as potential landing spots for Johnson and he ended up signing with the Jets April 16. Considering he has 2,014 career touches (272 receptions, 1,742 carries), teams might sooner look to the draft, where a late first-round pick would require only a four-year deal worth approximately the same $8 million Johnson was owed for next season.
Johnson made $30 million in salary and bonuses the past three seasons, but running backs on the open market this offseason are failing to cash in with big-money deals.
Johnson, 28, rushed for 1,077 yards on 279 carries -- a career-worst 3.9 yards per carry -- last season after posting 1,243 yards on 276 carries in 2012.
Johnson, who had minor knee surgery in January, said he was underused in the Titans' offense and was open to being traded. Johnson turns 29 in September with more than 2,000 career touches in six seasons.
"I'd like to thank all of my teammates, the fans, the staff and the coaches who have supported me throughout my journey with the Titans," Johnson said in a statement. "I have grown so much as an individual and as a teammate over the past few years, and I am excited about the opportunity to bring my experience and talents to a new organization. I'm looking forward to the next chapter and can't wait to contribute to my new team."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt and Webster had claimed earlier they were not in a hurry to dump Johnson, hoping as teams crossed off running back prospects in the draft a team might come knocking for Johnson, who had no deadline dates in his contract -- roster or workout bonuses that would warrant his premature release.
"I can't speak about what he has left in the tank, you never know. I know he's there every Sunday. He practiced every day from what I've seen looking at the (participation) charts," Whisenhunt had said. "It's a process with everybody you go through with the football team. ... Putting together the team is no exact science. Certainly chemistry will be a part of it. We're under no deadline to do it."
--The NFL announced each team's preseason schedule without precise dates or times, except for national TV games and the final preseason week in which all games will be on Thurs. Aug. 28. Week 1 games are Aug. 7-10, Week 2 Aug. 14-18 and Week 3 Aug. 21-24.
The Titans will be at home against Green Bay in Week 1 and Minnesota in Week 4, while going on the road to play New Orleans in Week 2 and Atlanta in Week 3.
--Titans quarterback Jake Locker, who is out of a walking boot, said Thursday that his surgically repaired foot "feels awesome."
"Surgery went really well. Foot feels awesome and rehab is up and rolling," Locker told The Tennessean. "Doctors were happy with how things looked so (I'm) just continuing to follow that trend."
Locker suffered the injury on Nov. 10 during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, had surgery shortly thereafter and the foot was placed in a cast. He discarded his crutches in January in favor of the walking boot, which he was still wearing earlier this month.
"It is hard to sit and watch. I haven't played in a long time now and (I'm) eager for the opportunity to get back out there again," Locker told the newspaper. "I am going to go out and do what I have done my whole career, and that's to try and prepare myself the best I can and give our team the best chance to have as much success as possible, and that is my goal."
The No. 8 overall pick in 2011 threw for 1,256 yards and eight touchdowns and four interceptions last season. Before the foot injury, he missed two games with a hip ailment.
Locker has missed 14 of a possible 32 starts over the past two seasons because of injuries. In addition to the seven games he missed last season, he missed five in 2012 because of a shoulder injury that also required offseason surgery.
According to the newspaper, the Titans' front office has made it clear Locker is the starter going into the final year of his rookie contract. The team, for now, has no plans to exercise the costly fifth-year option of around $13 million.
"He (Locker) knows what's at stake. He's got to perform," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said at the NFL meetings this week. "One thing I like about him is I've seen improvement in his play over the last few years. He hasn't played enough, that's the hard thing. You'd like to have a little bit more to evaluate.
"One of the things that I think is important when you're evaluating is, where was he three years ago and where was he this past season? And his play has improved.
"What I saw from him last year in the third game of the season when (the Chargers) played in Tennessee, I was impressed by that. Maybe that's clouded my judgment since I'm with the team, but I was impressed."
--The Titans signed Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard March 14. Last year, Woodyard was moved to middle linebacker with Stewart Bradley out for the season with an injury. He had 84 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.
"Wesley is a player who has experience playing in both 3-4 and 4-3 systems and in our new scheme he fits as one of the inside linebackers," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said in a statement. "He is smart and fast. He also brings the leadership qualities and intangible that we look for in a player, which makes him a good fit for us."
--The Titans are reaching out trying to appeal to their fan base. They held a gathering with season ticket holders and held a Q&A session with new coach Ken Whisenhunt and also made select players available to those season ticket holders in a meet-and-greet situation as well.
Executive vice president of administration Don MacLachlan spearheaded the event along with new Titans team president Tommy Smith.
More so now than any time since they first arrived from Houston and were first trying to gain a foothold in the Nashville market.
"The fact that we sold out games for 15 straight years doesn't mean we'll do it for a 16th straight year," MacLachlan said. "That's why we're way in front of the curve this year."
An estimated 4,600 fans attended the all-day event held at the new Music City Convention Center.
--The Titans made an unusual change this offseason, replacing head trainer Brad Brown last month after 28 years on the job. In his place, the team brought in Todd Toriscelli as their Director of Sports Medicine.
Toriscelli spent 17 years in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization.
"I have known Todd for nearly 20 years and have a great deal of respect for the work he has done through the years," said Ruston Webster, Titans General Manager. "He is organized, professional and has a wide-range of knowledge from his years in the field. He also has respect within the athletic training world as many of his former assistants have gone on to become head trainers in the NFL and college."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--Free-agent defensive end Shaun Phillips hooked on Thursday with the Titans, reaching agreement on a two-year contract worth approximately $6 million.
According to the Tennesseean, the deal includes $2.5 million in guaranteed money.
Phillips is coming off a 10-sack season in 2013 with the Denver Broncos. Before that, he was with the San Diego Chargers for nine years.
In 10 NFL seasons, Phillips has 383 tackles, 79.5 sacks and 24 forced fumbles. He has proved particularly productive the past two years as a pass rusher with 19.5 sacks.
Phillips is expected to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 defensive scheme used by new Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
--After nine seasons with the Titans, kicker Rob Bironas was released by the team Wednesday (March 19).
Bironas is the second leading scorer in Oilers/Titans franchise history with 1,032 points, ranking behind only Al Del Greco, and his 85.7 career field-goal percentage ranks fourth in NFL history.
The 36-year-old Bironas was due a base salary of $2.875 million in 2014.
A former Pro Bowl selection, Bironas converted 25 of 29 field-goal attempts in 2013. But a career-low 61.1-yard average on kickoffs concerned the team, The Tennesseean reported.
"We want to thank Rob for his nine years of service to the Titans," general manager Ruston Webster said. "He has been an outstanding kicker and we appreciate him both for his contributions on the field and in our community."
--Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's spot was believed to be in jeopardy after the Titans signed Charlie Whitehurst to a two-year deal. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was with Whitehurst last year in San Diego. Fitzpatrick was released the following day.
Whisenhunt said of Whitehurst, "He brings a familiarity with the offense we are installing. He will be a great resource for Jake (Locker) and the entire offense; and as a player, he understands what we want to get done. Working with him over the last year and seeing how he works and his ability gives me confidence that he is the right fit to fill this role."
--OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: With the switch to a 3-4 defense, Tennessee needs a proven pass rusher to man the outside. Akeem Ayers is being counted upon to be better with the switch to a 3-4, and veteran Shaun Phillips, signed away from Denver, should help.
--INSIDE LINEBACKER: The Titans swung and missed in trying to court D'Qwell Jackson, losing out to the rival Colts for him. Tennessee might use Zach Brown and/or Zaviar Gooden here, but need a speedy linebacker who can not only go to the ball, but drop in coverage as well.
--NOSE TACKLE: The Titans will use Sammie Hill here on some downs, but still need another big body to spell him on occasion as well.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--C Kevin Matthews (not tendered as RFA); once his father, Bruce Matthews, was relieved of his duties as offensive line coach, the writing was on the wall for Kevin Matthews, who was a fringe player re-signed in the middle of the season after injuries.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--T Mike Otto has been a serviceable backup for a number of years, but with a new coaching staff in place, he probably doesn't fit anymore.
--QB Rusty Smith will test free agency after four years split between the active roster and the practice squad. He never developed into the No. 2 quarterback the Titans envisioned him becoming in 2010 when they drafted him.
--C Rob Turner began 2013 as the starter and was blamed for some of the offensive line's issues early in the year. He finished the season on IR and probably won't be back in Tennessee.
--WR Damian Williams: UFA Dolphins; $800,000/1 yr.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--RB Jackie Battle: Potential UFA; $855,000/1 yr.
--DT Antonio Johnson: UFA; terms unknown.
--WR/KR Marc Mariani: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Ropati Pitoitua: Potential UFA; $9.6M/3 yrs, $2.175M SB.
--S Bernard Pollard: Potential UFA; $6.3M/2 yrs, $850,000 SB.
--C/G Chris Spencer: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--RB Leon Washington: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Dexter McCluster: UFA Chiefs; $12M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--OT Michael Oher: UFA Ravens; $20M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$9.35M guaranteed.
--LB Shaun Phillips: UFA Broncos; $6M/2 yrs.
--QB Charlie Whitehurst: UFA Chargers; $4.25M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$2M guaranteed.
--DE Al Woods: UFA Steelers; terms unknown.
--LB Wesley Woodyard: UFA Broncos; $16M/4 yrs.
--K Rob Bironas (released).
--WR Kenny Britt: UFA Rams; $1.4M/1 yr, $550,000 guaranteed.
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (released).
--RB Chris Johnson (released).
--T David Stewart (failed physical).
--CB Alterraun Verner: UFA Buccaneers; $26.5M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
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