GLENDALE, Ariz. — From the very moment he signed a contract with the team, Chris Johnson became the most experienced running back on the Arizona Cardinals roster.
But as of Tuesday, the day he will practice for the first time with his new teammates, that is all the former Tennessee Titan and New York Jet is.
Johnson signed a one-year deal with Monday, joining a team that he says has promised him nothing other than a chance.
“That’s cool with me,” Johnson said Tuesday. “When he first called me and we talked, I told B.A., I said I don’t want you to promise me anything, anything like that. I’m willing to come in and work for whatever my role is and whatever you all need me to do.
“It’s just a situation I’m glad to be back playing football and am just ready to go.”
Given Johnson’s track record — 8,628 yards and 51 touchdowns on the ground with another 2,154 yards and nine scores through the air along with three Pro Bowls — it’s not difficult to imagine him carving out an important role with the team.
However, as is customary with Bruce Arians, nothing is guaranteed.
“As I put it to Jermaine (Gresham) and to Chris, you’re not promised anything other than you’ve got a spot on the roster if you make the team,” the coach said. “You’ve still got to make the team, and then we’ll define your role on what you do on the field. We don’t promise anything when we bring guys in.”
Johnson will be added to a running back group that includes Andre Ellington, rookie David Johnson, Stepfan Taylor, Kerwynn Williams and Marion Grice, among others. He said the amount of talent surrounding him is what drew him to Arizona, with the soon-to-be 30-year-old seeing this as an opportunity to experience a level of success he has yet to.
He’s excited about the prospect of not seeing eight and nine-man fronts, while the Cardinals are pleased to add a player with noted home run ability to the backfield. Johnson is coming off a down season with the New York Jets, the first in his career where he failed to top the 1,000-yard mark, but feels like he’s still got plenty left in the tank after gaining 663 yards on 155 carries, good enough for a 4.3 yards-per-carry average.
“I still averaged the most yard per carry on the team and all that,” the back who ran a 4.24 second 40-yard dash said. “Losing a step, I don’t see it. I actually felt like I was more explosive last year, but it didn’t work out. Everything doesn’t work out, I’m just looking forward to my opportunity here and just making the best of it.”
In a perfect world, Johnson will come in and look more like the player he was in the early part of his career with Tennessee, when he was a highlight waiting to happen. His contract is for the NFL minimum, though there are bonuses that would allow him to make more if he rushes for at least 1,300 yards and makes the Pro Bowl.
“I don’t have a problem with that situation,” he said. “You’ve just got to work for what you want. Even me coming from high school, to college, to the league, nothing was ever given to me easy. I always had to work.
“Even with this situation, it wasn’t even about the money thing to me. It was a situation where the last time I went to the playoffs was my rookie year. I want to win and continue to play football.”
The chance to win seems to be the driving force behind Johnson choosing Arizona. And the Cardinals, of course, wanted Johnson because they think he can help them win. In that regard it’s a perfect match of player and team, a union that was considered for a while and then necessitated by what’s transpired in camp with injuries to some of the team’s top backs.
“We’ve had him on our radar for a while,” Arians said. “Just a matter of looking at other guys. With the injuries, it obviously set David way back, and Marion way back. We have seen Marion on tape — we know what he can do — but we don’t know what David can do.”
In some ways, no one is quite sure what Chris Johnson can do, either. But everyone knows what he’s been able to do, and that’s something special.
“You can’t make a mistake gap-wise, that’s for sure,” said Jerraud Powers, who faced off with Johnson in the past. “He’s got a lot of home run balls on his resume, as far as going yard.
“He’s a tough player; he’s more physical than he looks as far as he can take hits. He’s powerful, but like everyone else knows, it’s the speed that gets people. No matter what angle you’ve got, it’s not a good enough angle when it comes to him.”