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GM Keim: ‘We’ll look at’ an extension for Chris Johnson

Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (23) rushes during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
LISTEN: Steve Keim, Cardinals general manager

On Aug. 16, Chris Johnson was a free agent in search of a team.

On Oct. 12, Johnson is tied for second in the NFL with 405 rushing yards.

Pretty crazy, huh?

The 30-year-old Johnson was signed in large part because injuries ravaged the Cardinals’ backfield during training camp. How much he had left in the tank was really not known, as he was coming off a career-worst season with the New York Jets.

Johnson entered the season backing up Andre Ellington, but took over as the lead back after Ellington suffered a sprained PCL in his right knee. Not only has he taken the job, but he’s run with it. Pun intended.

Averaging 5.1 yards per carry while showing the kind of burst and speed that made him a star not too long ago, the Cardinals appear to once again have found a diamond in the rough.

“The thing you’ve got to keep in mind about Chris is here’s a guy that did not have a full offseason with us,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday morning. “From there, we were able to bring him in in camp and then he got an injury, soft tissue issue, right away.

“So really, Chris Johnson is just now starting to hit his stride in terms of being in football shape.”

Keim praised Johnson’s patience, feet and balance.

“And his ability to finish runs between the tackles has been something that has really stood out to me,” he added.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Johnson has topped the 1,000-yard mark six times in his career. He’s currently on pace for 1,296 yards, which would be a season high for the team since it moved to Arizona in 1988. It would also be the fourth-highest total in franchise history.

But considering Johnson did not begin the season as the starter and has had 20 or more carries in a game just twice so far, the pace he is on may be selling him a bit short. And if you consider, as Keim said, that Johnson is not even in shape yet, you kind of start to wonder just how good he will be.

As the team’s featured back — ahead of Ellington and rookie David Johnson — the veteran Johnson may very well be in the process of re-establishing himself as one of the NFL’s better runners, which begs the question of if the team has plans on bringing him back next season. Johnson isn’t the first veteran to come to Arizona and rebuild his value, as Karlos Dansby and Antonio Cromartie did the same thing in 2013 and 2014, but each of them parlayed their big seasons into a big contract with another team.

“That’s something that we always monitor, day-to-day, Mike Disner and I spend a lot of time on the contract analysis and spending time talking to the agents, so that’s something that we’ll look at,” Keim said. “But he has done an unbelievable job for us.

“And balance is the key to it all. That was our goal all along in the offseason, was to get bigger, more physical up front and to be able to create that balance where we can run the football effectively and then obviously open up the play-action game.”

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