Running back Chris Johnson signed a two-year deal with the New York Jets.
Johnson, 28, was released by the Tennessee Titans after six 1,000-yard seasons in Nashville.
The Jets envision Johnson as a big-play threat to pair with Chris Ivory when the offense slows to coach Rex Ryan's preferred "ground and pound" approach of relying on power running to move the chains and wear down opponents.
The Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys were reportedly interested in signing Johnson, but he would have come in as part of a timeshare arrangement at running back.
Johnson signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the Titans in 2011 that included a base salary of $8 million for the 2014 season. New coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Ruston Webster made it clear Johnson was not part of the long-term plans. Attempts to trade Johnson for draft pick compensation didn't materialize.
Johnson might not be the same player he was in 2009, when he rushed for more than 2,000 yards, but he carried the ball 279 times in 2013 and could flourish as part of a rotation. With the Jets, Ivory and Bilal Powell figure into the workload.
Johnson is also a solid short-range receiver with an average of 45 catches in Tennessee. That reliable outlet makes him the ideal check-down read for second-year quarterback Geno Smith, competing with Michael Vick to start for the Jets in 2014.
After agreeing to terms, Johnson said, "I have a fresh start. Now I am going to go out there with a chip on my shoulder. I am very excited about that. It's a team on the rise and I want to make them better. ... I still have it."
"I think I'm going to fit in pretty well.
Johnson acknowledged that some have doubts about how much he has left, but he said, "I know a lot of people are doubting me. I want to prove everybody wrong who has doubts in me."
--Jets coach Rex Ryan said the team's starting quarterback job this season will be an open competition between newly signed Michael Vick and Geno Smith.
"It's going to be a really interesting competition to watch," Ryan said at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla. "Geno Smith is going to be hard to beat out."
Ryan stressed he is seeking competition at every position, not just quarterback. Ryan is excited about the mobility of his quarterbacks.
"He's an unusual guy," Ryan said of Vick. "He was unusual when he came out of the league because of how athletic he was but I think he's definitely still ... you see all that athleticism he has. He can still run, moves well in the pocket, he's more accurate when throwing from the pocket than he used to be when he came into the league.
"He's got a big arm and can still run so very dangerous. I like the fact that both those guys give us the ability to run zone reads and all those types of things that help your running game. Having a guy, that mobile quarterback, is harder to defend then maybe a guy who's a stationary pocket guy.
"That being said, I'd probably rather defend a mobile quarterback than a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady."
Vick signed a one-year, $4 million deal Friday after the Jets released Mark Sanchez. He can earn another $1 million in playing time incentives. He would reach the $1 million level by playing 90 percent of the snaps. The bonuses begin at $100,000 for 50 percent playing time; $300,000 for 60 percent; $550,000 for 70 percent; and $900,000 for 80 percent.
"In an ideal situation, they both earn the job," Ryan said. "That's the way to do it and you can't go wrong in my opinion. Any competitor, you better want to be the starter at that position. Only one guy can be back there."
Last season's 8-8 Jets won three of their final four games with Smith playing his best football down the stretch.
"That's why, watch out for the Jets, man. I'm telling you,'' Ryan said. "My expectations haven't changed: I want to win and I expect to win. That's why I'm so confident that if I could say anything to our fans, it would be, 'We can't wait to get started.'"
Ryan said he contacted Smith after the Jets signed Vick, who went 20-20 during his four-season tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. Smith went 8-8 in his rookie season, throwing 12 touchdowns with 21 interceptions.
"I texted him," Ryan said of Smith. "I was excited, 'Hey, kid: We're going to sign Mike Vick.' He was all excited. You could feel it on the other end. He's happy about it. What Geno wants to do is he wants to get better. That's how he works.
"I think he looks at us getting Mike Vick as a chance for him to get better, from a veteran mentor who played in that system."
Vick had his 2010 Pro Bowl 21-touchdown renaissance under former Eagles and current Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
"I think everybody is going to be surprised with where Geno is at," Ryan said. "I'm excited about him, the progress he made during the year. He was getting better. Yeah, he had that little drop-off. But quite honestly, Johnny Unitas would have had a little drop-off. He came out of it and the football team came out of it. That's why I was so confident at the end of the year that we were playing our best football."
--The Jets made a change at quarterback on Friday, signing free agent Michael Vick and releasing Mark Sanchez.
Vick and the Jets reached agreement on a one-year contract worth up to $5 million, according to reports. He leaves the Philadelphia Eagles after being replaced as the starter last season by Nick Foles.
"We are excited to acquire Michael Vick," said Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who coached Vick from 2009 to 2012 with the Eagles. "He's a great talent who's won many games, including playoff games, in this league. He has the respect of both his teammates and opponents.
"He's here in a role where he's going to compete and push Geno Smith to become the very best that he can be. Michael will be able to go in and play at a high level and a winning level if called upon."
Jets owner Woody Johnson said Sunday that he called commissioner Roger Goodell before the team signed Vick.
"We've checked -- we've talked to everyone. commissioner Goodell, I had one conversation with him about Mike," Johnson said at the NFL league meeting in Orlando, Fla. "I think he'll be a real positive to help us get better. Not only at the quarterback position but also as a team."
Johnson was asked when he spoke to Goodell.
"I spoke to him a while ago. I don't remember exactly when," Johnson said. "We didn't talk about evaluating Michael Vick in terms of his throwing motion. Just in terms of (him as a) person. He was very, very supportive.
"Not really character references but to see what he's like and have a conversation. Quarterback's a really important position so we're going to do our due diligence."
Vick joined the Eagles in 2009 after six years with the Atlanta Falcons and serving time in prison on federal gambling and dog-fighting charges. He was Philadelphia's starting quarterback after the 2013 preseason but suffered a hamstring injury and gave way to Foles after his last start in a Oct. 27 loss to the New York Giants.
"I have an opportunity to come in and compete," Vick said, according to the Jets' website. "Push Geno, help him. Be there for him. And just try to help this team win some games in whatever way I can, and that's going to be my contribution."
Vick has made it clear that he wants to be a starter again. That means competing with Smith.
"They're getting a great football player and a great person," Vick said. "I think at the end of the day, regardless of what happened in the past, I'm here to do one thing. And that's play football. And I think that will be embraced. It's already been embraced in the building."
Smith said he's glad to have Vick on the team,
"Awesome, man. Vick's my guy," Smith said. "We needed to find a guy that was legitimately a guy that could come in and play. I think that's what we did. Mission accomplished."
As for knowing Vick intends to win the starting job, Smith said, "That's every quarterback. I understand where Mike's coming from. No one wants to sit the bench. I don't know a player that does. It's just good to have a guy to compete with like Mike. We're going to compete. We're not going to say, 'Hey, you're the starter.' And we'll leave it at that. We want to get better. I love it. It's really making everyone work harder and keep you right on your toes because you don't have a moment to be satisfied or just say 'I've arrived.' You've got to continue to work at it."
Sanchez was selected by the Jets with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and started 62 games in five years, posting a 33-29 record and passing for 68 touchdowns with 69 interceptions.
Releasing Sanchez, who was due a $2 million bonus on March 25, saved the Jets $8.3 million against the salary cap.
"I'd like to thank Mark for everything he's done for this team and me personally," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "We were rookies together and had some early success, becoming the first rookie head coach and quarterback to go to back-to-back (conference) championship games. We experienced a lot together and I really appreciate Mark. He's a great player, a great teammate, and I wish him nothing but the best."
Sanchez lost the starting job to Smith, a rookie last season, when he suffered a shoulder injury in the Jets' third pressason game against the New York Giants. He sat out the 2013 season after undergoing shoulder surgery and also had an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee.
Sanchez's best years came early in his career with the Jets. He established franchise rookie records for passing yards with 2,444 and completions with 196 as the team's first rookie quarterback to start the opening game of the season. In the 2009 postseason, Sanchez led the Jets to the AFC Championship Game.
In Sanchez's second year, the Jets won 11 regular-season games and he passed for 3,291 yards and 17 touchdowns. New York made it to the AFC Championship Game again, this time losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Jets have not returned to the playoffs since then and Sanchez had 52 turnovers in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
--The Jets agreed to terms with former Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker, the team announced Wednesday night.
The deal is worth a reported $36.25 million over five years with $15 million guaranteed.
Decker was considered by some the top receiver on the free agent market.
ESPN.com reported that Decker arrived in New Jersey late Tuesday night and spent Wednesday meeting with team officials in Florham Park. He capped the day by dining out with coach Rex Ryan and other team personnel.
Decker, who turns 27 Saturday, is coming off back-to-back, 1,000-yard seasons. He recorded career highs last season with 87 receptions and 1,288 yards, contributing to the most prolific passing offense in league history.
Decker was a non-factor against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, with just one catch in the Broncos' 43-8 loss.
He goes from catching passes for Peyton Manning to Geno Smith, but Decker said, "I did research. I didn't go into our meeting today blind. When you go from a Hall of Fame quarterback no one else, no matter who it is can be on the same level. Talking to the offensive coordinator Marty (Mornhinweg), who has had a good track record in San Francisco and Philadelphia, he really believes in this kid.
"When you look at the statistics, yeah he got off to a slow start, but he was hurt early on and he finished the season strong. He improved all season long in a tough market. That's pretty impressive."
Earlier in the day, the Jets agreed to a contract with unrestricted free agent Breno Giacomini, the Seahawks' starting right tackle last season.
Giacomini joins the offensive line less than a day after Austin Howard, the starting right tackle for the past two seasons, traveled to Oakland and signed a multiyear deal with the Raiders.
Giacomini (6-foot-7, 318 pounds) was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round in 2008 out of Louisville, playing in only one game that season and none the next two years.
He was acquired by the Seahawks from the Packers' practice squad on Sept. 28, 2010, released a month later, then re-signed in the offseason.
Giacomini started Seattle's 2011 opener, then took over the right tackle spot for the final seven games that year. He then started all 18 games for the Seahawks, including playoffs, in 2012 and started 12 games, including the Super Bowl, last season. He missed seven midseason games while rehabbing from knee surgery.
--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 Jets will play at home against Indianapolis in Week 3, while going on the road to play Cincinnati in Week 2 and Philadelphia in Week 4. The annual preseason game against the Giants will be a Jets home game in Week 3.
--Back in the day, Jets coach Rex Ryan had a tattoo done on his upper right arm that showed his wife wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey. Now that Sanchez has been released, Ryan was asked about his plans for the tattoo.
Showing reporters at the league meeting part of the tattoo, Ryan said, "Guys, the tattoo is still there. I'm not going to say anything about the Sanchez tattoo. It was my tattoo and it's still my tattoo. I may alter it, who knows? I'm going to put 75 on it, to honor Winston Hill. That's the idea. That's what I'm going to do."
Hill played 14 seasons at tackle for the Jets from 1963-76.
As for the departure of Sanchez, Ryan said, "I hope he ends up in a good situation for him. I hope it all works out for him. He's a tremendous young man. I have a lot of admiration for him. Obviously, I want him to do extremely well. With that being said, I don't want him in our division."
He added, "I don't know if we were the only rookie head coach and rookie quarterback to go to back-to-back championship games or not, but we're certainly on a small list. I think that's a pretty good accomplishment. He played a lot of good football. Unfortunately, people remember one play. Mark played well for us. We had some success, albeit not what we wanted -- ultimate success but we did have some success."
--With speculation rampant that the Eagles are looking to trade wide receiver DeSean Jackson, Jets owner Woody Johnson admitted to reporters at the NFL meeting in Orlando that the team has an interest.
"We're looking at a number of players, including DeSean," Johnson said. "He's a very good player, but we're looking at a number of them. A trade is not our primary operating motif right now. We're trying to build through the draft. Building through the draft is something that I think is the way to build a successful team long term.
"We're always interested in talent. If it's somebody that fits into our locker room and understands that he can fit into our culture at a price that we can afford or we feel is appropriate, then we'd do it."
--Two of the few offensive weapons the Jets possessed last year will be back in the green and white.
Tight end Jeff Cumberland, who finished second in the NFL in yards after the catch (6.35) last season, signed a three-year extension worth a reported $27 million on Saturday. Cumberland has shown a knack for big plays and for finding the end zone the last two seasons, during which he's collected 55 catches for 757 yard and seven touchdowns.
Kicker Nick Folk, on whom the Jets applied the franchise player tag, agreed to a long-term extension shortly after free agency opened on Tuesday. Folk nailed 33 of 36 field goals last year, including game-winners against the Buccaneers, Falcons and Patriots, and provided Rex Ryan a valuable weapon as he tried to win games with an offense that emphasized ball control and field position.
--Even by the short attention span standards of the NFL, Antonio Cromartie's descent from Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback to unemployed free agent was a rapid one.
Cromartie was cut by the Jets, a mere 15 months after concluding a brilliant 2012 season in which he cemented himself as the best cornerback in football. But a series of nagging injuries last year sapped him of his explosiveness, turned him into an easily exploitable liability and made his departure a foregone conclusion.
With a 2014 cap figure of $14.98 million, Cromartie would have been a candidate for release -- or at the very least a dramatically restructured contract -- even if he'd maintained his 2012 level of play last year. Now he'll look to make a fraction of that on the open market, where Cromartie hoped his reputation and relative youth (he turns 30 in April) turned him into a hot commodity.
His confidence certainly appeared unshaken: Cromartie told ESPN Radio in New York that he expected to be "The Antonio Cromartie of old in 2014" and that he wanted to play eight more seasons.
Cromartie also said he hadn't given up hope he could return to the Jets on a smaller deal, a la Calvin Pace last spring.
"The door is still open and that's how I look at it," Cromartie said at the time. "I'm going to test the market to see where my numbers are."
That market resulted in him signing a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
--There were no such sentiments from either side following the Jets' release of Santonio Holmes on Monday. Unlike Cromartie, Holmes was never an asset for the Jets -- especially once he parlayed a decent 2010 (52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games) into a five-year, $45 million deal immediately after the 2011 lockout.
He made $24 million over the last three years, during which he had just 94 catches for 1,382 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last three years. As ESPNNewYork.com noted, that works out to $255,319 per reception.
Worse yet, Holmes missed 17 games the last two seasons due to foot and hamstring injuries from which he was increasingly slow to recover. His familiar churlishness remained, which made his parting gesture -- an Instagram posting in which he said "Efarewell to a great fan base and organization" -- particularly ironic. Learning to say hello as he said goodbye notwithstanding, there will be no second act of "Tone Time" in Florham Park.
--Any doubt that John Idzik's first major move as Jets general manager -- trading malcontent cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers prior to the draft last April for a pair of draft picks, one of which he turned into NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson -- was a masterstroke disappeared earlier this week, when the Buccaneers began fielding trade offers for Revis.
When the Buccaneers -- who fired head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik after going 4-12 in Revis*first season in Tampa Bay - couldn't find a taker for Revis, they released him before he was owed a $1.5 million roster bonus on Wednesday. Revis is due $16 million in 2014, but none of it was guaranteed and he balked at the prospect of taking a pay cut to facilitate a trade.
Alas, in typical Jets luck, even a savvy move comes with some downside.
Per the terms of the trade, the 2014 pick the Buccaneers send to New York would have been a third-rounder if Revis was on the Tampa Bay roster as of the third day of the league year. If he was cut or traded before that, the pick becomes a fourth-rounder.
So with the Buccaneers dumping Revis Wednesday, the Jets get the 100th pick in May's draft instead of the 69th. Last year, the 69th player selected was cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who was an immediate difference maker for Arizona before suffering a knee injury. Back in 2003, the Cowboys used the 69th pick to select tight end Jason Witten, who may be headed to the Hall of Fame. He'd be the third Hall of Famer to begin his career as the 69th pick in the draft.
The 100th pick last year was, coincidentally, used by the Buccaneers to select defensive tackle Akeem Spence, who had one sack. The best active player selected 100th overall is Bears running back Michael Bush, who has accounted for more than 4,300 all-purpose yards in seven seasons. No Hall of Famer has ever been picked 100th overall, though 2001 draftee Rudi Johnson did rack up 5,979 rushing yards and 1985 draftee Mark Bavaro became one of the most popular players in New York Giants history.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Jets re-signed guard Willie Colon to a one-year contract Wednesday (March 19).
According to multiple reports, the deal is worth $2 million.
The 30-year-old Colon, who signed with the Jets as an unrestricted free agent last March, started 16 games at right guard in 2013.
"Ultimately, this is where I wanted to be," Colon said on the team's website. "I'm homegrown and finishing here was important to me. To be in this situation and to sign back on is a blessing."
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Colon helped the Jets finish second in the AFC in rushing with 2,158 yards during the regular season. But in the final game of the year against the Miami Dolphins, Colon ruptured his right biceps. He is expected to recover in time for the start of training camp this summer.
"I feel great," Colon said. "I feel real good. Rehab's going really well and all arrows are pointing up, so it's a matter of just getting back."
Colon will be paired on the right side of the Jets offensive line this season with tackle Breno Giacomini, who was signed as a free agent earlier this month after spending the past three years with the Seattle Seahawks.
In Colon's eight-year NFL career, he has started 78 games since he was picked in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
--CORNERBACK: Antonio Cromartie is gone, Dee Milliner is anything but a sure thing and the Jets' continued ascent rests on finding a stud to solidify a sieve-like secondary. Dimitri Patterson helps, but more is needed.
--SAFETY: Antonio Allen has displayed plenty of big-play potential in two NFL seasons, but Rex Ryan has appeared reluctant to entrust him with full-time work and Dawan Landry is an unspectacular placeholder. Upgrading and/or adding depth at safety is vital given the Jets' disastrous cornerback situation.
--WIDE RECEIVER: The Jets' top receiver last year was Jeremy Kerley, who missed four games yet still led the team with 43 catches for 523 yards. The Jets need a No. 1 and a No. 2 receiver, but they'll take a pair of No. 2s and call it a massive upgrade. Eric Decker was the first step, then Jacoby Ford. Might there be more?
FRANCHISE PLAYER: K Nick Folk (tendered at $3.556M; signed 4-year contract March 11).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--RB John Griffin (not tendered as ERFA) was cut after getting hurt early in training camp in 2012 and spent 2013 on injured reserve with a broken leg suffered in the exhibition opener. The Jets aren't likely to give him a third look this summer.
--WR Vidal Hazelton (not tendered as ERFA) spent last season on injured reserve and will be looking to latch on with his fourth NFL club this spring.
--TE Konrad Reuland (not tendered as ERFA) was establishing himself as a decent special teamer before going on injured reserve in November, but Mark Sanchez's ex-high school teammate will be allowed to walk.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--CB Aaron Berry suffered a torn ACL in the opening days of training camp and hasn't played in an NFL game since December 2012. Given the litany of off-field issues he had before signing with the Jets in October 2012, it seems unlikely even the cornerback-starved Jets will offer him any guaranteed money.
--WR Josh Cribbs provided an immediate upgrade to the Jets' kick and punt return units after joining them as a street free agent in October, but his season ended with a torn pectoral muscle Dec. 1. The Jets may be interested in bringing Cribbs back, but at 31, he's not likely to receive any guaranteed money.
--QB David Garrard declared on Twitter that his knee is 100 percent, but if the backup-starved Jets didn't make him a game-day active in the weeks following his un-retirement last October, it's hard to imagine anybody else signing him for anything more than mentoring duty.
--FB Lex Hilliard missed last season with a broken scapula and lost any chance at regaining his job after rookie Tommy Bohanon emerged as the Jets fullback. The nearly 30 year old may find it difficult to get a training camp invite.
--LB Josh Mauga is a valuable special teams contributor, but he hasn't played since October 2012 due to pectoral and back injuries. Odds are he'll have to continue his career elsewhere.
--S Ed Reed played seven games for the Jets but tied for the team lead with three interceptions, which says far more about the Jets' decimated secondary than it does Reed. He was a liability as an every-down player and made it clear he still thinks he's an every-down player, so Reed will move on if he plans on continuing his career.
--RB Darius Reynaud was signed in December to replace Josh Cribbs as the Jets' kickoff and punt returner but was only active for two of the final four games, which doesn't bode well for his chances of returning.
--TE Kellen Winslow made far more news off the field than on it during his one year with the Jets. Given the condition of his knees, the size of his ego and his tattered reputation, he may find it difficult to continue his career anywhere.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--LB Nick Bellore: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation; $1.431M/1 yr.
--G Willie Colon: UFA; $2M/1 yr.
--TE Jeff Cumberland: Potential UFA; $5.7M/3 yrs, $1M RB 2014.
--LB Jermaine Cunningham: Potential UFA; $730,000/1 yr.
--DE Leger Douzable: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--K Nick Folk: Franchise FA; $12M/4 yrs, $2.1M RB.
--CB Ellis Lankster: Potential UFA; $1.6M/2 yrs, $155,000 RB.
--LB Garrett McIntyre: Not tendered as RFA; $645,000/1 yr.
--LB Calvin Pace: UFA; $5M/2 yrs, $1M RB.
--CB Darrin Walls: Potential RFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Eric Decker: UFA Broncos; $36.25M/5 yrs, $7.5M SB/$15M guaranteed.
--CB Ras-I Dowling: FA; $1.23M/2 yrs.
--WR Jacoby Ford: UFA Raiders; $740,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--T Breno Giacomini: UFA Seahawks; $18M/4 yrs, $2.5M SB/$7M guaranteed.
--RB Chris Johnson: FA Titans; $8M/2 yrs.
--CB Dimitri Patterson: FA Dolphins; $3M/1 yr, $1M SB.
--QB Michael Vick: UFA Eagles; $4M guaranteed/1 yr, $2M SB.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (released).
--G Vladimir Ducasse: UFA Vikings; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--WR Santonio Holmes (released).
--T Austin Howard: UFA Raiders; $30M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--QB Mark Sanchez (released).
--CB Isaiah Trufant: Not tendered as RFA/Browns; $1.54M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed.
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